Telecommuting is the way to go!

Recently, a friend asked for help with planning her firm’s telecommuting policies, and I was only too happy to devote my bandwidth to the cause. I’ve long wished to see companies and managers transcending their physical walls to tap a vast pool of talent outside, and wanted to do my bit to propagate the concept of teleworking as an answer.

The term telecommuting or teleworking has been in use for a couple of decades but it has to still gain widespread acceptance in India where much emphasis goes on adherence to a fixed reporting time at one’s workplace and to ‘management by watching over’. For instance, at my last work place, employees were even made to keep their computer screens visible to passers by to prevent any recreational use!

So…what is telecommuting or teleworking?

To me the term simply means to commute or work using telecommunications. I prefer the term telework over telecommute because the former means what it implies – using technology to work. Telecommuting, on the other hand, could be for work or pleasure. In corporate circuits though the words are being used interchangeably.

The duration of telework could vary from one or two days in a week to an indefinite plan to work off-site.

So…what are its benefits?

The benefits are many. The ones that quickly come to mind are that teleworking:

  • Saves costs of real estate
  • Saves expenses on on-site employee benefits such as food, beverage and other facilities
  • Retains talent that is under compulsion to quit for reasons other than dissatisfaction from job
  • Offers flexibility to employees for better work-life balance and therefore motivates the workforce
  • Reduces recruitment and training costs
  • Saves time spent on physical commutes
  • Helps cut vehicular pollution by reducing physical commutes
  • Reduces traffic congestion on roads
  • Reduces use of fuel
  • Reduces stress due to long physical commutes
  • Reduces absenteeism due to vagaries of weather

And, those that don’t easily come to mind but do make sense are that teleworking:

  • Increases employee productivity and performance – fewer interruptions in the form of phone calls or colleagues dropping in for a chat translate into higher productivity.
  • Enables employees working through different time zones to converge on projects.
  • Provides a wider choice in the talent pool – disabled, elderly, single parents, mothers with young children, women in conservative societies who’re prevented from going out to work and more.
  • Allows a viable business continuity solution – for natural disasters, strikes and other crises.

I’d also like to point those interested to some resources I’ve enjoyed going over:

  • Jack Nilles is acknowledged as the inventor of terms telecommuting and teleworking, and other than maintaining a repository of documents on telework on his site, he posts his thoughts on the subject and provides a helpful tool to enable cost-benefit analyses from both employer and employee viewpoints:
  • I couldn’t agree more with this writer’s advice to move beyond debates of advantages versus disadvantages, and take lessons from IBM on strengthening their corporate culture and having their managers learn to lead virtual teams:
  • One of the rare India-specific studies I could find on the Net dates back to the year 2000 and makes less than encouraging observations about manager perception at that time – on the basis of data collected from cities of Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkatta:
  • A study from 2006 that declares telework having diffused to a large number of organisations but mostly in the garb of supplementary telework, mobile telework, virtual teams, e-collaborations and not as originally understood home-based work:

Let me know if you have any thoughts or useful resources to add to mine.

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