To many workers, telecommuting seems ideal. Work from home, and you can say goodbye to long, frustrating commutes during rush hour, save money on gas, avoid distractions and trade in stuffy suits for loungewear. The hardest part about becoming a teleworker may be convincing your boss that it's a good idea in the first place. But as more employers have embraced telecommuting in recent years, research has shown that it's not just good for employees and the planet, it increases productivity and cuts costs, too.
Of course, not every employee is a good candidate for telecommuting. Some jobs just can't be done at a distance, requiring face-to-face interaction and on-site tasks. But for dependable, disciplined workers whose tasks are largely location-independent, like working on the computer or talking on the phone, telecommuting can provide significant benefits.
Good for the planet
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $23 billion could be saved in transportation, environmental and energy costs if telecommuting increased by 10 percent to 20 percent. Telecommuting rates increased by an astounding 74 percent between 2005 and 2009, and with rates expected to continue growing by 15 percent each year, the savings in gas costs could be enormous.
With fewer workers in the office, employers can reduce their need for space, cut back on certain office supplies like toilet paper and paper towels and eliminate the need for duplicate equipment like computers, printers and phones. Teleworkers are also more likely to e-mail documents instead of printing them out, and may be more conservative with resources like water and paper products at home than they are in the office.
Good for workers
The average daily commute to work is longer than ever, and employees are paying the price with increased stress, fatigue and sedentary lifestyle habits, all of which can lead to long-term health problems. Long commutes also cut into precious personal time, throwing off that crucial work/life balance.
Working from the locations of their choice enables telecommuters to work at their own pace, be more active, spend more time with family and focus on their tasks without the disruption of chatty co-workers, forced meetings and other distractions that don't directly relate to their own work. Of course, distractions can happen at home, too, but that's why it's important for teleworkers to maintain a sense of professionalism at all times, working in a quiet home office or other designated space.
To maintain the output and quality of work that employers expect, telecommuters should resist the temptation to get non-work-related tasks done during the day, but that doesn't mean they can't take advantage of the perks of managing their own time. A five-minute break in the backyard, a walk in the park during lunch hour or a few jumping jacks to perk up during the afternoon slump can work wonders for motivation and well-being.
Good for employers
Having workers who are satisfied with their jobs and thus less likely to leave is far from the only benefit that employers can reap by allowing some of their employees to telecommute. A study by Stanford University found that teleworkers outperformed in-office workers by 15 percent both in quantity and quality of work produced.
In addition to reducing real estate and other overhead costs, teleworkers can boost a company's bottom line because they're often willing to work longer hours, and they use fewer sick days. Employing teleworkers also broadens the labor pool, enabling employers to hire talented workers whose disabilities, age or roles as primary caregivers may make it difficult to come into the office every day.
Advances in technology, especially in the area of communications, mean that remote workers can stay in touch and on task. From webcams and free video chat programs like Skype to more advanced videoconferencing software, virtual office tech allows telecommuters to participate in group projects, share content and maintain face time with their managers and colleagues.