Working from Home: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Telecommuting

The amount of people working from home is increasing. People that work from home may be employees, or they may be self-employed. Working from home, also called telecommuting, is defined as:

“Telecommuting (also known as working from home, or e-commuting) is a work arrangement in which the employee works outside the office, often working from home or a location close to home (including coffee shops, libraries, and various other locations). Rather than traveling to the office, the employee “travels” via telecommunication links, keeping in touch with coworkers and employers via telephone and email.”

Working from home boasts many benefits for both employers and employees; however, there may also be some drawbacks to a work from home arrangement. 

The Benefits of a Work from Home Arrangement for Employers

There are many benefits for employers who allow employees to work from home some or all of the time. Of these benefits, perhaps the most notable is the positive impact that telecommuting will have on your company’s bottom line. Having employees work from home means less overhead cost. It also reduces the need for ample office space, which may reduce rents and utility bills. With office space often at premium for any growing company, having some employees work from home provides the opportunity to hire more in-office workers in the spaces once occupied by home workers and grow the company on two fronts: in the office and with home workers.

Growing the company using work from home arrangements also benefits organizations by giving them virtually no limits when it comes to where workers might live. It expands the hiring pool far beyond reasonable commuting distance, and has the potential to allow your company to diversify by appealing the more potential hires.

Many companies have become concerned with what is known as the triple bottom line – the aim to be profitable, but also to maintain or improve conditions for society, as well as the physical environment. Allowing workers to telecommute reduces greenhouse gas emissions and relieves congested roadways in major cities. This is one of the ways that an employer can work toward reducing the organization’s carbon footprint.

The effects on productivity can be difficult to measure; however, for the most part it is believed that homeworkers are more productive because they are interrupted less, and they aren’t subject to daily interruptions from coworkers or the general office environment. A Chinese travel website Ctrip recently allowed some staff to work from home on a trial basis. Those workers completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office, each producing almost an extra day’s worth of calls every week. Telecommuting also gives organizations the advantage of having employees be at full capacity operating ability during a natural disaster such as a flood or a snowstorm. Employees that commute to the office each day would be unable to work in these circumstances.

The Benefits of a Work from Home Arrangement for Employees

The benefits of a work at home arrangement do not just have positive effects for employers; employees who work from home also cite many benefits. Among them is greater flexibility in scheduling; however, it is recommended that telecommuters try to adhere generally to the organization’s hours, or at the very least, their core hours of operation. Even under this recommendation, employees who work from home can experience greater flexibility.

Increased job autonomy is also known to increase feelings of job satisfaction, which does have an impact (albeit only a slight one) on productivity, which may explain why the Ctrip employees who worked from home were able to complete more calls than those who worked from the office. Ctrip isn’t exceptional. Many telecommuters report that they are able to accomplish more, and that they have more energy to put toward job tasks because they don’t have to commute. Employees are also generally more productive at home because they can set up a customized work environment that is just for them – they may prefer lights on or lights off with natural lighting; radio on or total silence; open window or a warm room – whatever the preference, telecommuters have the freedom to set up the space that works the best for them, as opposed to being forced to conform with whatever environment the office affords.

For tips on setting up a home office, Click Here.

Work-life Balance, and how it’s Affected by a Work from Home Arrangement

Recently, the concept of work-life balance has really come into focus. With the movement toward enhanced mental health and well-being both in and outside of the office, the concept of work-life balance has come to the forefront of modern organization management. Work-life balance occurs when people are able to minimize the conflict between their work demands and home-life demands. The relationship between work and home falls out of balance when employees work too many hours, think about work when they’re not at the office, answer work calls/emails on personal time via electronic devices, and allow work commitments to take precedence over commitments to their families or themselves.

A job where an employee telecommutes full time, or even one or two days per week can have a drastic impact on work-life balance. This is in part because of the time saved by not having to commute. As well, the flexibility in the schedule does allow workers to start earlier and end earlier, or vice versa, which may allow them to complete other family-related tasks such as picking up a child from school, or helping an elderly parent get to an appointment.

What is the “Sandwich Generation,” and how does a Work from Home Arrangement Benefit employees that belong to this group?

Some members of today’s workforce fall into a unique category, members of which are referred to as the “sandwich generation.” Workers who are part of this collective are faced with the challenge of concurrently caring for small children and aging parents. Those who find themselves in the group face greater risks to work-life balance because their time outside of work must be divided between elderly care and child care.

In response to the growing number of workers who find themselves in the position, some companies have started adding elderly care benefits to their benefits package. For companies who can’t offer this type of benefit, or who wish to ease the stress for sandwich generationers, a work from home arrangement is infinitely helpful. It gives parents flexibility to get kids to school or daycare, and it may afford the chance for a worker to stay home to support a moderately independent parent. It also gives workers chances through the work day to help elderly parents adhere to schedules, manage medications, and prepare meals. A home worker is home to greet children after school, even if they do so from their home- office space while they finish up their daily tasks. For members of the sandwich generation (a growing group), a work for home arrangement may mean the difference between a healthy work-life balance or an eventual burnout.

The Drawbacks of Work From Home Arrangements

While there are many benefits to telecommuting, there are also a few drawbacks that need to be considered before moving head-on into a work from home arrangement in your workplace.

Technology is a key consideration. Does your company intend to provide adequate technology to facilitate successful work from home? If you expect your employees to use their own equipment (computers, cell phones, networks), does your company plan to subsidize some or all of the cost to purchase, update, and/or maintain these items? As well, is having a secure network a concern for your organization? If so, how do you intend to help home workers secure theirs?

Supervision is usually the largest concern that employers have when they are facing the decision of allowing work from home. Some managers are remiss to give up the control that accompanies having a team that physically works in an office. The key here is trust. Employees with proven track records are the best candidates for working from home. Employees whose output is easily measured also make good candidates. As supervisors, it is a good exercise in empowering workers and building trust to give employees who desire it a chance to prove that they can self-regulate in a work from home setting.

Telecommuters may also experience some drawbacks. The major drawback is that collaboration and face to face support is lost when they don’t appear in the office. This may create feelings of isolation or not being part of the team, which has the greatest impact on workers whose personality types crave social interaction. Sometimes, employees who work from home feel that they are negatively disadvantaged when promotions become available, as they think they will be overlook or forgotten about when the considerations for the advancements are made.

While working from home has many positive effects on employees who care for children and/or parents, it is important to note that caregivers must understand that working from home is not a substitute for full time care. Small children not yet in school must be arranged for, as they require too much focus to consider trying to work and watch over them. Likewise, elderly parents who cannot function relatively independently would also require care arrangements during working hours.

Is Working at Home Right for Me?

Before you approach your employer with a request to work from home, consider the following:

  • What is your company’s culture like?
  • Do other employees work from home?
  • What will working at home really be like for you?
  • Do you have a definitive plan for working at home that includes how you plan to accomplish work goals?
  • Can you commit to a trial basis and regular communication?
  • Are you an excellent communicator?
  • Are you highly motivated?
  • Does your track-record realistically lend itself to a high-trust relationship with your manager?
  • Are you flexible?
  • Do you enjoy long periods of solitude?
  • Does your work have any policies for or against working at home?

Working at home can certainly be beneficial for both employer and employee. The benefits are plentiful, and it’s a workplace trend that requires attention. Despite some drawbacks, working at home may benefit some organizations and allow business growth, an increased bottom line, better productivity, a more diverse workforce, a reduced carbon footprint, and an enviable corporate reputation. With benefits like these, many organizations are moving toward having some sort of work at home arrangement for some of their staff members. Even if workers only spend one day a week in the home office, the benefits are simply too great not to consider.

Telecommuting and Occupational Health and Safety Issues

When working from home, health and safety and the OHSA should be considered. To better understand the implications on health and safety read this article.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


 

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