What is Telecommuting?

Once upon a time, “going to work” meant getting dressed in appropriate attire at a predetermined time, driving or using public transportation to get to an office or other work site, and staying there for a predetermined period of time before returning home. But for some people today, “going to work” may mean slipping into shorts and t-shirt and walking down the hall to their home office. Sometimes remote workers live far away from their employer and work from home almost all of the time. In other situations, though, people work from home one or two days a week but come to the office on other days. More and more organizations are allowing employees to work from home on at least an occasional basis. The general term for this practice is telecommuting.

Telecommuting is when employees work at home or in other locations geographically separate from their company’s main location.

Telecommuting is clearly defined as employees working from home one or more days a week during typical business hours.

The term telecommuting was coined in 1975 during a study conducted at the University of Southern California.

Telecommuting was originally an organizational method intended to alleviate the growing problems of transportation in large urban areas. The idea, as developed by Jack Nilles, would allow for certain employees to work from home or other locations rather than travel to the offices (Nilles 1975).

Employees performing their work at a location other than the place of business, most likely at home, is a growing trend. Today, employees take office work home with them and complete it on home computers. They can then return to the office to collect more work. They are connected to that office via servers, VPN, and e-mail.

These arrangements can even result in a virtual office and are becoming especially popular with people who want (or need) to work but do not wish to work full-time or who have other responsibilities such as child care or elder care.

Since its inception, the idea of telecommuting has grown significantly in concept and scope. It has now become a small component of the large umbrella concept of telework (See Telework Opens in new window).

Employees & Companies Benefits from Telecommuting

Telecommuting is simply the logical extension of the electronic cottage. Under this arrangement, employees may do almost all of their work at home and may receive assignments electronically. This arrangement provides employees with the ultimate in flexibility because they can choose the hours they work and even the location.

A growing body of evidence suggests that this arrangement increases job satisfaction Opens in new window and even productivity Opens in new window, and it also allows organization to use the services of individuals who may not be able to work at a given site. For example, an employee can live many hours from the office if he or she performs most of the work via telecommuting.

Pros & Cons of Telecommuting

By using e-mail, smartphones, tablets, web interfaces, and other technology, many employees can maintain close contact with their organization and do as much work at home as they could in their offices.

On the plus side, many employees like telecommuting because it gives them added flexibility. By spending one or two days a week at home, for instance, they have the same kind of flexibility to manage personal activities as is afforded by flexible or compressed schedules.

Some employees also feel that they get more work done by staying at home because they are less likely to be interrupted. Organizations may benefit for several reasons as well:

  • they can reduce absenteeism and turnover because employees will need to take less “formal” time off, and
  • they can save on facilities such as parking spaces because fewer people will be at work on any given day.
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There are also environmental benefits, given that fewer cars are on the highways.

On the other hand, although many employees thrive under this arrangement, others do not.

  • Some feel isolated and miss the social interaction of the workplace.
  • Others simply lack the self-control and discipline to walk away from the breakfast table to their desk and start working.

Managers may also encounter coordination difficulties in scheduling meetings and other activities that require face-to-face contact. And there is now a new area of growing concern—cybercrime.

Regardless of the downside, the costs seem to be outweighed by the benefits, and the percentage of the workforce that telecommutes is on the upswing.

One recent study suggests that almost 10 percent of the U.S. workforce works from home at least one day a week. Some companies are also using work at home time as a reward for top performers.

Government organizations—federal, state, and local—have also embraced the concept of telecommuting and are increasingly encouraging their employees to work from home on a regular basis.

Finally, larger organizations can save considerable amounts of money if they do not need large (or any) real office space.

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Cisco Systems, a pioneer in telecommuting, estimates that by allowing employees to work at home, it has boosted productivity Opens in new window by 25percent, lowered its own overhead by $1 million, and retained key knowledge workers who might have left for other jobs without the flexibility provided by the firm’s telecommuting options.