As technology continues to make it easier to stay connected and perform work from any location, more employees are finding themselves working remotely, without going into the office every day. Many employees, as well as employers, see telecommuting as an effective means of providing flexibility and promoting a healthy work-life balance.
Who is Telecommuting
Although working from home can be extremely beneficial, it might not be a good fit for every employee or organization. Certain industries, such as transportation, healthcare, law, finance, online retail, and information technology, thrive without the need to have all employees in the same office space. According to a recent Gallup survey, each of these areas saw an increase in the amount of employees who performed at least some of their work remotely. Other industries, however, including engineering, architecture, and education, have seen a decline in the amount of employees who elect to telecommute.
Despite the decline in remote work that is seen in some fields, a benefits survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 2016 reported that at least 60% of companies offer telecommuting opportunities. Furthermore, the Gallup survey noted that the amount of employees who telecommute at least part of the week increased from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016.
Reasons to Telecommute
The decision to telecommute, and to allow employees to work remotely, can depend on numerous factors. For employees, a significant advantage of telecommuting is the short commute to the table downstairs or the local café, as opposed to an hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic. Long, arduous commutes can wear on an employee and affect his or her mood and job performance.
Allowing employees to simply cut out their commutes one or more days a week can help alleviate the stress associated with traveling to and from work and increase productivity. Employees can use the time they save telecommuting to relax, work on a hobby, or spend time with family and friends. Additionally, the idea of working remotely may draw in more applicants from a larger area, giving employers access to talent that might not have been interested otherwise. Location is so important that, according to the Gallup survey, 37% of employees would change their jobs to take one that offered telecommuting on at least a part-time basis.
As with any practice, an all or nothing approach does not seem to yield the best results. Having at least some contact with the office is essential for employees to develop a sense of loyalty to their employers. Additionally, being able to put faces to the names of colleagues goes a long way towards encouraging collaboration, communication, and work ownership. The lack of in-person interaction is part of the reason why some companies, including Yahoo and Bank of America, decided to cut back on the amount of remote time they allowed.
Research has shown that partial telecommuting yields the best results for employee engagement. Based on the Gallup survey, employees who spent an average of 60% to 80% of their time, three or four days per week, working remotely felt more engaged than others who participated in the survey, while those who spent either all of their time at the office or all of their time telecommuting reported the lowest levels of engagement. Partial telecommuters also expressed that they make more progress during their workday. Furthermore, individuals who telecommuted at least a few days during the week reported feelings of camaraderie and belonging within the organization, and that this fostered professional growth opportunities.
Employers can implement policies that employees must follow while working remotely. These policies can help telecommuters simulate an office environment, which will lead to greater focus on work and less distraction from the employee’s location. For more information on how to create a work environment away from the regular workplace, see our blog post, Work from Home Like a Professional.
As with any policy that allows employees to perform work away from the office, wage and hour issues can easily arise. For employees who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers need not worry about the specific number of hours worked from home. Rather, employers simply need to note that an exempt employee performed at least some work on a given day. On the other hand, all hours worked by non-exempt employees must be recorded so that they can be compensated in compliance with the FLSA. For more information on wage and hour requirements, see our article on Working from Home While “Out Sick.”
Allowing employees to work remotely for a few days each week can be an effective way for employers to increase productivity and overall workforce morale. Employers may wish to incorporate remote workplace policies to help employees create work environments that are conducive to productivity. Furthermore, employers need to ensure that they are complying with relevant wage and hour laws. With these considerations in mind, employers can effectively use partial telecommuting programs to benefit their organizations by creating happier, more engaged employees.