Is Telecommuting the Future of Business?
⏱ Reading Time: 9 minutes
The modern workforce has switched to a remote-working model seemingly overnight. It’s left many of us wondering if telecommuting is the future of how we’ll be working.
According to a Gallup poll, 62% of Americans reported that they started working remotely as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More importantly, 60% of these individuals would prefer to continue working remotely if it was feasible to do so.
This begs the question. If over half of people working remotely wish to continue, can we ignore the possibility that telecommuting becomes the future?
And if so, are we moving toward a more productive and happier workforce?
We’ll explore the pros and cons of telecommuting, but first, it’s important to understand what it is.
What is Telecommuting?
Telecommuting is when an employee does not work from an office defined as the employer’s or company’s office space. This could mean working in your living room, a coffee shop, or even a shared working space.
Is Telecommuting a New Idea?
Telecommuting is not a new idea. In fact, some industries have been utilizing aspects of this model for years. However, recently it’s become more accessible due to new tools that enhance communication like Slack and Zoom.
Additionally, in 2019, 81% of Americans had access to high-speed internet. Because of this, the industries that transitioned their workforces to telecommuting have seen massive growth in the past two decades.
In the past, IT/Programming, online marketing and digital signage are among those who have benefited the most from telecommuting.
These industries championed telecommuting, paving the way for others who were forced into it due to the pandemic.
Current Trends in Telecommuting
In the last decade, we have seen a 159% increase in the number of employees who are now working remotely. This figure shows a clear indication of market adoption regarding telecommuting.
Picture 1. Remote work trends
The infographic below depicts the bullish sentiment employees have on the flexible work arrangements of telecommuting.
Picture 2. The majority of employees like the flexibility which comes with remote work
It’s clear the pandemic has only catalyzed the transition that was already underway to a remote working model. The rapid onset of COVID-19 forced companies who were considering telecommuting to take the plunge and to do so quickly.
Like any model, there are always positives and negatives that justify its use-case. Below are some pros and cons of telecommuting.
Pros of Telecommuting
Matt is the Co-founder of WordPress and Automatic, which he runs with a 100% distributed workforce. Have a look below at why he thinks remote working has been so successful for lots of people.
As we can see from the clip, Matt is quite confident that telecommuting will be adopted by many businesses in the future.
Let’s look now at some more pros of telecommuting.
In a 2019 study of nearly 2500 remote workers, Buffer addressed the impacts of telecommuting on employees. When asked to report on the best part of working remotely, many cited flexible schedules as what was appreciated most.
Let’s expand on this, and the other positive aspects of telecommuting below:
Picture 3. Positive aspects of remote work
The ability to be flexible in your working hours was valued ubiquitously throughout the remote working community. Over 40% of workers in this study cite it as the most important aspect of their working lifestyle.
This statistic is understandable, if you consider the different kinds of people you may find working for the same company. Not everyone will be operating at their best within the same time constraints. Many feel more productive in the early morning, while others get their best work done late at night.
Time freed up by not having to commute to an office, gives employees the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities. This creates a sense of freedom and autonomy that wasn’t available before.
Now, workers are able to delegate the time usually reserved for commuting towards exercising or spending time with the family. These are just a few ways remote workers are reporting to be using the extra time made available to them.
Financially Efficient for Both Employee and Employer
First, let’s look at how telecommuting can be more financially viable for the employer.
The renting of physical space for teams to operate out of is usually one a businesses biggest overheads. Without the financial and physical constraints that come with needing an office, organizations are now able to scale and grow.
Money can also be saved by no longer having to maintain and provide resources within the workplace. This can come in the form of furniture, food, drinks and other supplies. These expenses are now passed onto the employee, who can claim them on tax.
Now, let’s discuss how telecommuting benefits an employee financially.
Less time spent commuting can have a noticeable difference to one’s bank account. Reports show that commuters could save $5,000 annually if they didn’t have to drive to and from work. This has been extrapolated from data that shows how much the average American spends on gas, vehicle registration and maintenance.
Higher Employee Satisfaction & Productivity
There has been a monumental shift in worker attitude towards remote work in the past year. Amidst the stressful situation of a pandemic, workers are becoming aware of the possibilities of telecommuting.
In a recent survey, 65% of workers reported they felt more productive working remotely, compared to in the office. On top of this, it has been shown that remote workers can be up to be 13% more productive.
With all these things considered, the remote working model starts to look far more appealing to employees and employers alike.
Better for the Environment
As mentioned before, a reduction in commuting is having positive impacts across the board. Not only is it having a positive impact on everyone’s bank accounts, but on our environment as well. Those meetings across town that could have easily been held via screen sharing are a thing of the past.
No commuting means a huge reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, we will get more time to enjoy our healthier planet on a remote working schedule. It’s a win-win situation!
The digitizing of our work can also lead to reduced usage of supplies such as paper, plastic cups, and pens.
From a more holistic view of telecommuting, we can argue the positive effects this model has on our environment. With the dissipation of typical working arrangements, less office space is needed, meaning less damage to the environment.
If we no longer have to construct buildings for offices, perhaps the environments around our cities stand a greater chance? This could have a positive effect on issues such as deforestation and dehabitation.
Cons of Telecommuting
The study also discovered that there were, in fact, significant downsides to telecommuting. Below is an infographic depicting the key difficulties remote employees faced during their time telecommuting.
Picture 4. Key difficulties while working remotely
Let’s break these down a little further.
Increased Loneliness & Stress
Everyone requires various levels of socialization to remain healthy, and we all have different responses to stress. During this stressful time, some may find the isolation from work colleagues as one of the hardest things about telecommuting.
This raises a few questions. Will these feelings of loneliness and increased stress levels be reduced once we return to some form of normalcy? Or are they a greater symptom of remote working?
Depicted in the infographic above, 19% of workers stated that loneliness is a damaging factor of working remotely. This gives ground for concern; a 2019 study led by Kassandra Alcaraz; PhD, MPH, a public health researcher with the American Cancer Society. Analyzing data from more than 580,000 adults, Kassandra found some shocking results. She concluded that social isolation increases the risk of premature death across all groups.
Lacking Motivation & Discipline to Perform
Being able to work from home is a blessing for some and a curse for others. The loss of rigidity may actually hinder the productivity of a large segment of remote workers. Those who relished the structure a workplace provided them may be lost in a telecommuting model.
In the above infographic, 10% of workers stated that distractions were a major downside to working at home.
This is to be expected. Workplaces were quick to open up again or move to a telecommuting model, while schools and daycares were kept closed. This has made it difficult for lots of telecommuting employees who now have their children at home.
The lack of supervision and communication for remote workers could also be detrimental to their productivity. If a person lacks motivation and discipline, they may find it difficult to work in an environment that is less structured.
Harder to Manage Employees
From an employer’s perspective, a key aspect that is proving to be challenging is the effective management of employees.
To tackle this, many companies have enrolled the help of employee scheduling software. These tools aim to make it easier to monitor and manage workflows across departments and timezones. This is necessary, with 8% of workers citing being in different timezones to their teammates as a con of telecommuting.
With employees no longer being in the office and under supervision, employers are having to trust more and micromanage less. A company that didn’t have a workforce they could trust prior to entering into telecommunication may be struggling now. Learning to trust these workers will be an important step towards efficient telecommuting.
That aside, this can still impact hardworking employees and their managers, through breakdown of communication. Having to explain complex projects via video conferencing is not ideal, especially when it would be easier done in person.
So, Is Telecommuting Truly the Future of Business?
Whether you are for or against telecommuting, it’s hard to deny that this model is being largely adopted. Workforces are expecting it to be the future of business.
This is because it has shown to be extremely productive and positive in many aspects of our lives.
To reach its true potential, we will have to understand telecommuting’s weaknesses so we can improve upon these flaws. This will ensure all who are working within this model are truly reaping the benefits this system offers.
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