Thought leadership

Does Telecommuting Really Work?

Does Telecommuting Really Work?

Telecommuting is typically defined as a flexible work arrangement where employees work out of the office full or part time, all or portion of the workweek, while traveling, or on-site at a client’s office.   Although an estimated 45 million U.S. employees telecommuted in 2006, it is not for everyone.  Some jobs are better suited for it especially those where the employee can work independently, doesn’t need a lot of face-to-face interaction, and where the manager can measure the teleworker’s results or output.

In today’s current work environment there are a lot of reasons companies are considering or have recently implemented more telecommuting options for their employees.

For employees these reasons* include:

  • Improved quality of life and work/family balance
  • Increased autonomy
  • Increased efficiency
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increasing costs associated with commuting to work – gas, traffic stress, wear and tear on automobiles, buses etc., increased pollution (carbon emissions)

For employers:

  • Lowered costs of housing employees
  • Increased applicant pools
  • Improved employee retention
  • Lowered rate of absenteeism
  • Increased employee productivity
  • Increased flexibility

(*These benefits were identified by a study conducted by Penn Sate University in a 2007 survey of over 12,000 employees.)

The reasons for telecommuting, however, are not without some challenges as well. The study identified just as many reasons why companies and employees are hesitant to jump on the “roll out of your bed and work in your PJs” train. These challenges include:

For employees:

  • Perceived career hindrance
  • Isolation and lack of interaction with coworkers
  • Household distractions
  • Less living space

For employers:

  • Management resistance and skepticism
  • Culture change from looking at hours worked to looking at results achieved
  • Security of data
  • Diverse wireless technologies
  • Training employees

Supervisors sometimes really struggle with the idea that if their employees are out sight they must not be getting as much work done as those they can see in their office.  However, just the opposite was found to be true:  both employees and employers noted increase productivity and efficient levels. Another challenge that sometimes is forgotten is the workers left in the office sometimes feel alienated so managers should make efforts to grant them more autonomy, schedule facet-o-face meetings with telecommuters and ensure all employees are included in office events.

Even some work environments that were previously thought to be completely ineligible for telecommuting have broken barriers through advanced technology  Specifically, companies with call centers have created a new term called “Homeshoring” that refers to moving off shore call centers into homes of employees.  The applicant pool becomes much larger tapping people who cannot or chose not to work outside their homes.  There are an estimated 112,000 home agents today in the U.S. and that is expected to grow to over 300,000 by 2010.  Some companies who have made this switch work successfully include Alpine Access, Live Ops and Jet Blue. Jet Blue for example, employ about 1,500 at home agents 70% of whom are stay-at-home moms.  They have found that the agents have better retention rates, better scheduling options and high customer service and can work in any weather.

Here in Virginia, our Department of Taxation, through the work of Robin Mack and her team successfully implemented what they call “Teleworking”.  They created a program that offered 75% of their workforce the eligibility to work one day from home remotely.  Ninety percent of those who participated in the program rated their productivity as greater due to lack of interruptions while 66% of their managers did.  Customer service levels also increased for the teleworker group compared to those working on their contact center.  Teleworkers did miss interactions with others and managers cited scheduling meetings as the biggest challenge.

For a listing of other companies who have this flexible work arrangements work check out the Families and Work Institute website and their 2008 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work.

Given all the pros and cons described it is not surprising that more companies are cautiously headed down this path.  Some tips to consider as you implement a Telecommuting policy:

  1. Base performance on results, not hours worked
  2. Establish clear policy and expectations
  3. Establish channels for face-to-face communication
  4. Work collaboratively
  5. Include telecommuters in office events and meetings
  6. Provide effective timely feedback and coaching
  7. Recognize when it is not working

Who knows, maybe the PJs you get for Christmas this year will be your new “business casual” outfit.


Genevieve Roberts

Managing Principal

Titan Group LLC

Genevieve Roberts

Genevieve Roberts is a Managing Director & Practice Leader with the Gallagher Human Resources & Compensation Consulting practice focused on HR, Leadership, and Organizational development. Genevieve is based in Richmond, Virginia.

Genevieve has over 25 years of diversified experience in Human Resources and consulting. She has performed as a business partner with varied industries including technology, health care, higher education, manufacturing, retail, financial services, non-profit, public sector and professional services. She has specialized experience in Executive ...

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