Telecommuting: Perk or Peril?

This blog post is in response to a request from a friend who wondered whether I might be able to address whether telecommuting was positive or negative for an organization.  As we discussed the pros and cons of this (relatively) new way of working, we uncovered several layers of thought that stretched from individual experience to the culture of the company.

Telecommuting is increasingly accepted and even embraced by organizations as a way to decrease infrastructure costs, attract and retain talent from a wider area, and allow employees greater flexibility and work-life balance.  However, there can be risks and downsides for both employees’ career paths and for the culture of the organization.  And sometimes a benefit can simultaneously be a risk.

Pro’s to Telecommuting

  • Higher productivity due to reduced interruptions and elimination of commuting time.
  • Greater flexibility and therefore work-life balance options (e.g., walk the dog during lunchtime).
  • Employees completely avoid the stresses of rush hour traffic.
  • A home office can be set up exactly the way an employee prefers to work.
  • Anyone can theoretically work for any company, creating greater choice for employers and employees.
  • Organizations may decrease the need for office space, parking, and other facilities and thereby save costs.

Con’s to Telecommuting

  • Lower productivity due to distractions around the home.
  • Blurring of the lines between “work” time and “home” time can cause coworkers to assume you’re always available to them.
  • Employees may work fewer hours, or far more than required, when they are not tied to office hours.
  • Decreased visibility for employees — less inherent understanding of what they’re working on and their skill sets.
  • Working from home can be isolating.
  • Career management may be inhibited when networking with other departments is limited and there is less ability to observe other teams and their work roles.
  • Challenge to create a cohesive team when everyone is working remotely. 
  • Company culture is not experienced by employees on a day-to-day basis, so may be diminished or lost.

Recommendations for Employees

Based on the benefits and risks of telecommuting discussed above, here are some recommendations for employees who telecommute or who are considering doing so:

  • Maintain work habits from the office when working from home: dress professionally, start at the same time every day, schedule a lunch break, and have a “leave work” time.
  • Create a work space that promotes productivity and limits distractions.
  • Ensure that your computer, internet connection, and other work tools are optimized for your work needs.
  • Schedule lunch dates with friends periodically to give yourself a real live person to talk to.
  • Create personal connections with your colleagues whenever possible; maximize your time in the office to build relationships, and reach out to key contacts regularly when working from home.
  • Communicate often and clearly to your manager and others about what you’re working on.  Keeping others informed of your status and workload keeps you “on the radar.”
  • Look for ways to continually build your skills and professional network (join professional associations, and volunteer for projects that bring you into contact with other departments or divisions).

Recommendations for Employers

Likewise, for organizations in which telecommuting is common there are lessons for employers to consider in order to preserve their culture and enhance performance:

  • Create clear and measurable objectives for employees — this is particularly important for remote employees.
  • Managers can call to “check in” periodically and ask how they can support the team member, much like they would stop by someone’s desk to say hello and see how things are going.
  • Use video chat tools to create more personal connections and deeper communications between team members.
  • Use webinars, video conferences, and similar tools to hold team meetings and promote cohesiveness and connection.
  • Promote communication through courses and best practices — strong communication is even more essential in a telecommuting environment.
  • Get creative about infusing your company culture into a remote environment.  For example, if your culture values fun and creativity, you might send out a daily inspiration or joke, or have the team write a story by each writing a sentence of the story and passing it on to another member to add to it.
  • Create in-person social and team-building events as often as practical.  Mix fun with learning and development.

What do you think?  What are the pro’s and con’s of telecommuting from your perspective?  Share your comments below.