Remote Possibilities: Telecommuting Is Gaining Momentum

If your association is debating whether offering a telecommuting option would be a gain or drain on productivity, there is empirical evidence clearly pointing to its upside.

By Teresa Brinati

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My workday feels more relaxed in my home setting office,” says Monica Hilgen, who works in Accounts Receivable for Global Charter Services, Inc. “I do finance and accounting work so it helps to have my own quiet atmosphere instead of being in a shared space, plus I’m more productive and more refreshed from not having to commute.”

If your association is debating whether offering a telecommuting option would be a gain or drain on productivity, there is empirical evidence clearly pointing to its upside.

Hilgen, who has telecommuted a few days a week since December 2014 and full-time since 2018, lives 53 miles from her office in downtown Chicago. She estimates she’s gained back 4 hours of her day working at home. You could fly to Jamaica in the same amount of time! Her commute was like an endurance sport: a 25-minute drive to the Metra train station followed by a 75-minute train ride followed by a mile walk to the office. That’s one-way and barring dreaded commuting delays.

She saves thousands of dollars a year on gas, parking, train fare, and shoe leather. Amid escalating concerns about the environment, she’s also reduced her carbon footprint.

Not spending one sixth of her day commuting means Hilgen has “almost two extra hours to sleep in the morning, and in the evening I actually have time to cook a real dinner.” Who wouldn’t want that?

One other thing: “It is especially helpful when I don’t feel well enough to commute, but I’m not so sick I can’t work,” Hilgen said, “So I’m still able to get in a decent day’s workload without having to worry about getting out the door.” Isn’t that the stuff of an employer’s dream employee?

A Win-Win Proposition

Hilgen’s experience—increased productivity, diminished stress, reduced costs, and a decrease in sick days—are advantageous all around. She benefits and so does her employer, not to mention the environment.

Such experience is on par with a survey conducted a few years ago by Connect Solutions (now CoSo Cloud). Among those who worked remotely, both part-time and full-time, “77% report greater productivity while working off site with 30% accomplishing more in less time and 24% accomplishing more in the same amount of time. 23% are even willing to work longer hours than they normally would onsite to accomplish more while 52% are less likely to take time off when working remotely—even when sick.” Yep, win-win for employers and employees.

Hilgen is one of approximately 4.7 million employees—3.4% of the workforce—who now work from home at least half the time, according to the most recent telecommuting trend data from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. These statistics on the work-at-home/telework population in the US are based on an analysis of data from the 2005–2017 American Community Survey (US Census Bureau).

For Large and Small Organizations

Hilgen’s company, which has 24 full-time employees (37% telecommute full time and 33% telecommute two to three days per week) is in the vanguard since larger companies are most likely to offer telecommuting options to most of their employees, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

With 1,200 employees around the world and annual revenue of more than $200 million, Jensen Hughes is a global leader in safety, security and risk-based engineering. It also has a flexible work policy, which was the big attraction to the company for Alka Malur, a senior quality assurance consultant, who estimates that 50% of the Jensen Hughes workforce works either part-time or full-time remotely.

“I manage my time in a much more meaningful manner,” said Malur, who has telecommuted two to three days a week for the past ten years. “For example, I’m able to work around my PT schedule or doctor appointments, and don’t necessarily need to take time off to fulfill those obligations.”

On Trend

Working from home is certainly gaining momentum. A 2019 report by Remote.co, which was based on a survey of nearly 2,500 remote workers, found that an overwhelming 99% said they wanted to work from home, at least some of the time, for the remainder of their careers.

Global Workplace Analytics’ research found that:

  • 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 40% of the workforce works remotely at some frequency
  • 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time. Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).
  • Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies repeatedly show desks are vacant 50–60% of the time.

Even so, workplace flexibility also has its challenges. “Personally, I think that working remotely requires a bit of maturity—one has to cultivate the discipline to be able to work from home,” stated Malur. “This includes refraining from distractions (like house chores) and doing your work in complete isolation,” she added.

Strategies for Working Productively at Home

Being productive is paramount to any organization. Malur said she likes human interaction and part-time telecommuting allows her the best of both environments—home and work. She also recommends being active in a professional association and attending conferences to counter isolation.

Both Malur and Hilgen have strategies for addressing telecommuting challenges.

  1. Stick to a schedule.

Hilgen says: “I’m very organized so I keep myself to the same schedule I would in the office, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Coworkers always know when they can reach me and get an answer right away. You really do need to be at your work station when you are expected to be, no matter the location.”

  1. Carve out a dedicated workspace.

Malur says: “Make getting into a work mindset easy. After my morning cup of tea, I go into my home office, close the door, and I’m in my work environment. It’s a small room with a window that I only use for work. My workspace at home mimics my workspace at the company office—a table, ergonomic chair, bookcase, couple of plants, artwork on the wall to inspire creativity, and two monitors in addition to my laptop.”

  1. Develop a routine.

Hilgen says: “I have a certain routine I follow in the morning to prepare for work such as getting up at same time every workday, eating breakfast, then shower, then dress for work. Obviously a bit more casual of dress than in a downtown Chicago office where we have business casual dress anyway.”

  1. Have the right tech set up.

Malur says: “This may seem obvious, but don’t take it for granted because without it you cannot operate remotely. Luckily I have extremely high speed Internet at home provided by the building I live in, which meets company requirements. I’m able to connect to work using Cisco VPN. And we’re on a cloud server, so we have easy access to all documents and files whether I’m at home, at the airport, or elsewhere.”

  1. Tailor your space for your productivity needs.

Hilgen says: “Being in my own environment, I am in charge of climate control. I can change the temperature of my workspace as I see fit. Also, if I want to listen to music, I don’t feel I’m disturbing anyone else.”

  1. Stay connected to colleagues.

Hilgen says: “We have several communication methods—phone, email, Slack messaging, and two to three weekly meetings.”

Malur says: “The way we’re set up, we have immediate access to colleagues. For example, we started with Skype for business but have since migrated to Microsoft Teams (a unified communications platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration), which gives us flexibility. I have the app on my cell phone. Colleagues have immediate access to me at any point in time. We have eliminated our desk phones at our workstations. All phones are routed through our MS Teams app which we use for weekly team meetings, to make audio and visual calls, and share our desktops. All of the colleagues in my department are virtual (I am in Chicago and they’re in Houston, Boston, and North Carolina).”

Consider the Possibilities

If your perception of a telecommuter is someone in their pajamas lounging on a couch binge-watching the latest Netflix series on their laptop, think again. Increased productivity, diminished stress, reduced costs, and a decrease in sick days are fast becoming hallmarks of the gains realized from telecommuting, no matter the size of the organization. Maybe it’s time for your association to make working from home more than a remote possibility.

About the Author

Teresa Brinati is the director of publishing for the Society of American Archivists, which has recently implemented a telecommuting policy. She can be reached at tbrinati@archivists.org.

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