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Neil Maycock

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Why has telecommuting not taken off like we thought it would?

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There may not be as many people working from home as first thought. Does your business promote it? Neil Maycock elaborates.

Telecommuting, or ‘remote working’, was once hailed as the future of business and town planners were even being reported to be accommodating for a new type of society. Why then, in 2014, is there still such doubt surrounding the practice? With the incredible technological advances of the past decade allowing for an ever improving and seamless communication with colleagues, why haven’t we all already ditched the office in favour of home sweet home? This article looks at the benefits, challenges and possible improvements involved with remote working. 

It’s all about trust 

Telecommuting has many positives. Most notably, it is about giving your employees flexibility and the opportunity to customise their working life around the responsibilities of home life. Research by Mitel shows that 81% of UK workers wanted to escape the routine of 9 to 5 culture opting for a more lenient work pattern. Reasons for this can vary greatly, from trying to juggle raising a family to wanting to save time and money by not commuting; they are all valid points that benefit the employee. The trust given by a boss to an employee when allowed to work at home is significant. Employee morale is a benefit of remote working that should not be underestimated. The combination of trust with the face value benefits of telecommuting can greatly improve an employee’s morale and productivity. Businesses always want to keep their staff happy, for many reasons, but what are the benefits of telecommuting that the bosses want to see? How can you justify paying someone to stay at home all day? Remote working drastically cuts overheads as smaller offices save money and increase profits.

Also, remote workers, especially digital workers, tend to be highly skilled, well paid and self-motivated people who don’t need to be monitored. It’s time to look past the idea of time spent in the office as the most important factor of productivity. Employees should be judged on the actual output they produce. Telecommuters will argue that they are far more productive at home than they are in the office. Not having a set work time will often mean working in the evenings or on weekends and the time not spent commuting can be spent working. There is also the constant office distractions such as phone calls, noise and chatting to employees whereas the peace and quiet of home is many peoples perfect working environment. 

A company that allows remote working instantly becomes more appealing to many potential employees too. It is often the case that the more experienced and skilled staff are those with parental and relationship responsibilities. By not offering telecommuting, your company is limiting the calibre of staff you are bringing in and also retaining.

So what’s the problem? 

Remote working has always been criticised for its failure to recreate the instant communication and collaboration of office based working environments. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, infamously banned working from home last year in a bid to improve speed and quality of work. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions and impromptu team meetings", she said. Telecommuting is seen to be killing company culture, the spontaneous brainstorming sessions and the sharing of ideas that only being physically present can allow.

Working from home isn’t always in the best interests of the employee either, although they may not realise it. Rather than relieving stress it can often have an adverse effect when the lines between home and work life become ever more blurred. Telecommuters are amongst the most overworked individuals often due to feeling like they must not be seen to be skiving off by their employers and overcompensating with work. Loneliness and depression is also known to be a common side effect of not getting out the house on a regular basis and enjoying the office camaraderie. 

A comfortable middle ground 

Today, many businesses are using aspects of the telecommuting culture to improve employee productivity and save money. A compromise where telecommuters are set core working hours where they must be available for communication is a great idea. It gives you as the boss some control whilst the employee still feels in charge of their day. Asking your home-sourced employees to come into the office for meetings every so often can be beneficial too. To not consider remote working as an option for your company severely limits your options. Of course, it’s not for every company and it’s not the working standard we were told it was going to be. However, slowly but surely businesses are coming round to the idea of telecommuting. 

Neil Maycock is a marketing consultant for The IT Service, the Microsoft Office Training provider

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