A Simple Guide to Telecommuting

Hiring Success Glossary

Table of Contents

What is telecommuting?

With the still-looming threat of COVID-19, telecommuting has become a must for anyone in an industry whose parameters allow for it. With the office environment becoming inherently unsafe, people are now doing their jobs digitally, from home. Formerly in-person meetings now happen via Zoom and other teleconferencing apps (Skype really missed their moment). Conversations that may have happened in the employee lounge are now happening over Slack. Remote desktop access is de rigueur, and employees must stay tethered to their phones during working hours (to the extent that they weren’t already). In other words, people are using all digital means at their disposal to do as much of their jobs as possible from home. While technology has made telecommuting easier and more feasible than ever before, it is not without its pitfalls, for employers and employees alike.

Costs and benefits of telecommuting for employers

A key issue for companies with telecommuting employees is quantifying whether and how much work is being done. This is especially true when employees telecommute entirely. Aside from virtual workplaces with easily-tracked metrics, such as call centers, it is harder for employers and their supervisors to tell whether or not work is getting done when they can’t see it getting done. It is incumbent upon those supervisors to institute clearly achievable goals with attached deadlines. Supervisors must also be extremely organized so that they are aware of all their resources and are capable of using them effectively in a rapidly changing workplace.

Further, employers may have to absorb some unanticipated costs. They will have to send telecommuting employees the equipment necessary for their jobs, which may necessitate some redundancy where expensive technology is concerned. They will also face the specter of covering high speed broadband internet access for all those who telecommute.

Those concerns and costs may pale in comparison to the cost savings offering by having even a partially telecommuting workforce. The first, and most obvious savings is the reduction in necessary office space. Even with a workforce that is the same size as you currently have, staggered telecommuting on 2-3 days per week could theoretically reduce your necessary office footprint by half.

How telecommuting can expand your talent community

The savings don’t stop at office space. Consider recruitment and retention. With the availability of positions that telecommute 100% of the time, your available workforce is the entire world. You are able to recruit potential employees from markets with lower costs of living who may be willing accept slightly lower pay in return for the ability to work exclusively from home. Not only is there cost savings, there is also a gain in perspective. By hiring further from home, companies can gain greater diversity of opinion and experience with relatively little effort. In addition to these benefits, employees with the flexibility to telecommute are more likely to stay at a given company. Higher retention means lower recruitment and training costs.

Travel is another area of savings. If telecommuting is part of the norm, then a lot of meetings, presumably, do not need to happen in person. No rental cars. No flights. No hotels. Less money spent. Less time wasted. Further, with less travel and commuting comes greater productivity. That aggregate hour or two an employee is spending in her car on a daily basis, can instead be spent getting work done at home. Those five hours in a plane spent battling with a tiny workspace and spotty wifi just to sit face-to-face for a few hours, can instead be spent getting work done at home (or even the office).

Costs and benefits of telecommuting for employees

Telecommuting employees enjoy a great many benefits as well. Chief among them is reduced commuting. Commuting is a huge source of stress for many employees. Not only do employees spend time in cars or on public transportation, getting no work done, they are also more stressed by their commutes on their way to the office. Contrast that with spending an hour over a cup of coffee while scrolling through Instagram and the benefit is clear. Telecommuting employees also often enjoy having more discretion over their time. While this may not be true for employees who are on call for a specific period of time, those employees whose work is more project-based can choose when to work, so long as they get their work done. This flexibility in telecommuting allows employees to spend more time with family, leading to greater happiness and less stress.

All that said, telecommuting employees must remain vigilant in a couple areas. First, where their work is not easily quantified, they must be in constant contact with their supervisors. Failure to provide consistent, tangible updates could lead to supervisors devaluing a telecommuting employees’ work when compared to their coworkers who do not telecommute. Also, while having discretion over one’s schedule can be attractive, telecommuting employees also need to be wary of eroding the division between home time and work time. When you do not have a set schedule, it can sometimes feel like you are always working. Even though employees will always be physically home, they must be clear, both with their supervisors and their cohabitants, about when they’re mentally working and when they’re mentally at home.

It seems that a move towards greater telecommuting is inevitable in a post-COVID world. That shift can benefit both employers and employees. The barriers to entry are lower than ever. Video meeting apps are readily available and deliver a consistent, high-quality experience. There are numerous modes of digital communication available to teams at a given company. Widespread broadband access is a reality in most parts of the county and world. Employers will need to be clear with telecommuting employees about their desired results and expectations. Employees will need to be vigilant about communicating with both their employers and their cohabitants. Provided both parties can make the mental and strategic pivots necessary, the results could be tremendous savings in costs, stress and environmental impact.

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