Working Together by Working Apart: The Telecommuting Culture

The number of employees who work from remote locations has skyrocketed in the past few years, thanks to technological advances that have enabled a wider range of tasks to be performed outside the workplace. How can telecommuting help your bottom line?

The nature of work is changing rapidly, as many employees and managers are tapping into technology that allows them to accomplish more and more outside the confines of a centralized workplace. But telecommuting isn't just a matter of convenience or quality of life, it also provides tangible benefits to a company's bottom-line by improving productivity and cutting costs.

According to a 2012 survey from Reuters, approximately one in five workers worldwide telecommute frequently, working remotely from their office or communicating by email, phone or online chats. Among these telecommuters, 34 percent said they would telecommute full-time if they could. Moreover, 65 percent of respondents around the globe thought telecommuters were more productive because greater flexibility allowed them to have more control over their work life.

"More organizations than ever before are encouraging their employees to work remotely in a bid to increase productivity, cut costs and improve employees' motivation by giving them a better work life balance," global recruiting firm Hays notes. "Using the latest mobile tools, video conferencing, laptops, smart phones and tablets, employees can liaise with colleagues and clients from home, a customer's office or further afield in business centers or internet cafés. There has also been an increase in virtual offices, which allows employees to work from any location."

In the United States alone, there were an estimated 26.2 million teleworkers in 2010, representing about 20 percent of the total adult working population, according to research from WorkSimple. Sixty-two percent of companies reported having some employees who work remotely either full-time or part-time, and 61 percent believe their companies will allow more people to telecommute in the near future.

Similar research this year from project management firm Wrike found that 43 percent of employees said they work remotely more often than they did two or three years ago, and one in four said they expect their company will fully incorporate virtual collaboration - the process of having teams work across remote locations to accomplish projects together - in the next year or two. (See Wrike's infographic below.)

Why are so many companies adopting telecommuting policies? Because a happy employee is a loyal employee, meaning talent retention becomes considerably easier with remote working opportunities. According to American Express OPEN Forum, more than 80 percent of employees consider working from home a perk, a third say they'd prefer the option to work from home over a pay raise and another third say they would accept a pay cut if they were allowed to telecommute.

Work performance also improves in a telecommuting culture. A study from Cisco found that 69 percent of employees cited higher productivity when working remotely, 75 percent said the timeliness of their work improved and 67 percent said their overall work quality improved when telecommuting. In addition, not having to commute significantly cuts down on fuel costs, and 60 percent of the time saved by avoiding a commute is spent working.

Apart from the benefits of higher productivity and work quality, telework can also cut down on overhead. OPEN Forum notes that real estate costs employers an average of $10,000 per employee annually, and by cutting down on physical space requirements by allowing more workers to telecommute, IBM was able to save $50 million a year in real estate expenses, while Sun Microsystems saved $70 million a year.

"But the savings go well beyond the cost of real estate. Telework saves companies money in office furniture, equipment and supplies, utilities, janitorial service, security, maintenance, paper goods, coffee and water service and leased parking spaces," OPEN Forum explains. "Dow Chemical was able save a third of non-real estate administrative costs by sending some workers home."

Given the potential cost reductions, OPEN Forum estimates that a company could save up to $20,000 per employee annually if they telecommute full-time.

Telecommuting may offer advantages to the U.S. economy as a whole. According to the Telework Research Network, if the 41 million Americans with telecommuting-compatible jobs worked from home just one day a week, total savings for the U.S. would reach $772 million a year, including a $494 million reduction in commuter costs, $185 million saved from using 2.3 million fewer barrels of oil and a $93 million cost reduction from 775 fewer traffic accidents.

Despite the challenges of supervising a disparate group spread across multiple locations, there are numerous strategies for managing remote workers and collaborating long-distance with teammates, making telecommuting an effective option for cutting costs, boosting retention and improving work performance.

Click image for full-size view. Infographic credit: Wrike

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