Is Telecommuting Right for You?

June 19, 2007

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Perhaps in response to the seemingly countless number of horrors in the workplace, telecommuting is continuing to gain in popularity among small and large firms alike. Could it work well for you and your employer? Here we consider the "why" and "how" to do it and do it successfully.

American commuters alone take an average of 24 to 51 minutes a day traveling to and from work. The average U.S. employee travels between 29 to 32 miles (round trip) for work each workday. Because the daily commute often cuts into personal time (sometimes deeply), telecommuting presents an appealing alternative to many of us. And with rising gasoline prices, the attraction of telecommuting jumps considerably. Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages for both companies and workers who choose telecommuting.

Benefits and Drawbacks Before even considering telecommuting, most companies — and some employees, too — have to answer a simple question: Does the position lend itself to successful telecommuting?

Moreover, "the jobs telecommuters do must be results-driven rather than activity-driven," according to Jacqueline Taylor, an associate region director of the University of Houston's Small Business Development Center.

Clearly, this circumvents the problem of an employer not trusting an employee to actually work rather than engage in some other activity. (And here we thought a "nanny cam" aimed at us and linked to the boss' office wall would solve this problem.)

From another perspective, an ethical employee interested in telecommuting might ask himself or herself if he or she has the tenacious self-discipline, not to mention engagement, to help the company earn profit in the face of temptations to goof off or care for the young, elderly or infirm.

While the employee's benefit comes to mind quickly — more time for family and friends, as well as reduced costs, not to mention the possibility of getting work done in casual clothing — the company, too, can win by not having to pay for office space and equipment. Plus there's a societal benefit: "The public payoff could be fewer auto emissions and eased road congestion, as employees scale back their daily commute," notes Jeff Outhit at Canada's The Record (Sub. Req'd).

Screening to Determine Biz Success Before making any decisions regarding telecommuting, employers should consider consulting available guidelines, such as those specified by the Shasta County (California) Employee Telecommuting Program Handbook. Some sobering selection criteria considerations include the following:

1. Applicants' job duties must be appropriate for telecommuting.

2. Applicant must have a current job evaluation rating of at least meets standards.

3. Applicant must have a consistently high rate of productivity, and a high level of skill and knowledge of the job.

4. Applicant must be able to work with minimal direct supervision, and be able to obtain feedback when needed.

5. Applicant must have good organizational and time management skills.

6. Applicant must agree to comply with all participation guidelines required by a telecommuting program and arrange work agreements with supervisor(s).

7. Applicant must be aware that participation in telecommuting can be terminated at will by the department head or the employee.

A company considering enabling telecommuting can easily use these suggested rules to screen employees before granting them telecommuting privileges. There are considerations for the prospective telecommuter, too.

Tips to Ensure Telecommuter Success Telecommuting isn't as simple as rolling out of bed, brewing your coffee and sitting at your computer. It requires careful planning and discipline. The following are some basic tips from Shasta County for working at home and maintaining — or increasing — your productivity level:

  • Get organized and develop good work habits from the moment you begin.

  • Establish a safe location in your home as your workspace. You don't need to devote an entire room for your office at home. Some telecommuters have successfully developed part of an existing room, a garage, an attic and even a closet for their workstation. Locate your workstation away from distractions. Don't try working on the couch in front of the television or on the dining room table. It doesn't work! Inform family members that your workspace is off limits.

  • Don't get caught without necessary tools to work efficiently.

  • Set a work schedule for the days you telecommute, and stick to it. Begin and finish working at the same time on telecommuting days, as this will help you establish a routine.

  • Develop a list of goals and assignments for the days you telecommute. At the end of the day, go over the list and see what you've accomplished.

  • Replace the "ritual" of getting ready for the office with another ritual; establish new rituals for telecommuting days. Some telecommuters actually leave their house, go around the block, return and begin the workday. Others play specific music or begin working after a morning exercise session or bike ride. Find a ritual that will work for you.

  • Finally, if you are going to make telecommuting work for you, consider having an end-of-the-day ritual to mark the end of the workday.

If the responsibilities and workload of your job do not allow for the aforementioned practicalities of telecommuting, consider carpooling or using public transportation. Otherwise, good luck with the summer's gas prices.

Resources

Average Travel Time to Work of Workers 16 Years and Over Who Did Not Work at Home (Minutes) Workers 16 years and over (Place level) U.S. Census Bureau

Average Commute Time (in minutes) by Employer Type - Country: United States Payscale.com, updated: May 31, 2007

Working at Home Can Be a Benefit by Jacqueline Taylor The Houston Chronicle, May 6, 2006

Poll: Traffic in the United States by Gary Langer ABC News, Feb. 13, 2005

There and Back Again - The Soul of the Commuter by Nick Paumgarten The New Yorker, April 16, 2007

Motorcylce Transportation Fact Sheet Ridetowork.org, 2005

Employers Want Workers to Stay Home by Jeff Outhit The Record, June 1, 2007

Shasta County Employee Telecommuting Program Handbook Shasta County, California

Additional

The Impact of Telecommuting on the Commute Time, Distance, and Speed of State of California Workers by D. T. Ory and Patricia L. Mokhtarian University of California – Berkeley, 2005

LiveOps Home Agents Save Environment 1.4 Million Gallons of Gas Per Year by Contracting from Home, 10,000 Agents Save $4.2 Million in Commuting LiveOps, May 15, 2007

Gas Prices Drive Workers - and Bosses - to Telecommute by Jonathan Mandell CNN, June 7, 2007

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