Telecommuting: Benefit your Employees…and Bottom Line

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Chris Terrell 
Project and Development Services

Looking for ways to help clients increase employee health and productivity? But short on solutions? Try telecommuting or ‘workshifting.’ While not a new concept, employers may have difficulty quantifying productivity and sustainability gains for the knowledge workforce.

In studies published by the American Psychological Association (APA), the findings were overwhelmingly positive:

  • A macro study examined 46 studies on flexible work arrangements for over 12,800 employees. Employees who telecommuted were more productive, less likely to quit, and more satisfied with their jobs and personal lives than those who spent the workweek in the office.

With recent advances in cloud computing and web based work programs, telecommuting also makes sense for the tech-savvy workforce known as Millennials. According to ENR, the Millennial generation (born after 1980) will compose the majority of the construction workforce by 2018. Employers will have to find new ways to attract and manage top talent. 

In terms of sustainability, perhaps the greatest benefits from telecommuting have been quantified by Kate Lister of the Telework Research Network, a San Diego based research firm. Lister has compiled data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggesting roughly 40% of the U.S. workforce could work from home. The potential benefits of 33 million new teleworkers, working half time from home, could be huge:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 53 million metric tons of CO2 (equivalent to removing 9.6 million cars from the road annually)
  • Save almost $15 billion in gasoline costs
  • Save $46 billion in reduced employee absenteeism
  • Save $31 billion in reduced employee turnover
  • Productivity gains of $235 billion due to fewer office distractions

However, the same studies suggest managers exercise caution with telecommuting. Working at home too frequently (3+ days per week) made telecommuters feel “too isolated from their co-workers.” And entrenched workplace attitudes remain. Managers may fear losing oversight over employees.

A Harvard Business Review article suggests measuring performance, not face time will be key to overcoming obstacles.  Employers who must have face-to-face interaction have options:

  • Investing in remote office centers (leased office space with internet access for workers from different companies, owned and managed by a commercial real estate firm)
  • Videoconferencing and telepresence technologies offered by Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, Teliris, and Polycom.

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