Tel·e·com·mute (noun) To work at home using a computer connected to the network of one’s employer. (Dictionary, 2010) This may seem like an unfamiliar word now, but it is likely to be a common association with employer/employee relations in the future. The idea of remote employment or “telecommute employment” has been practiced since the early 1960’s, and was primarily associated with traveling salesmen or mobile professionals. It has evolved and gained quite a following over the past forty years, to become an issue that is debated among companies large and small. Many of these companies have mixed views on the relative effectiveness of implementing a program to allow their employees a telecommuting position. In the following proposal I will present evidence that displays some of the vast benefits that are associated with a telecommute position. Some of the benefits I will be illustrating are related to the areas of financial, environmental, productivity, and personal health.
When a company switches to the alternative to the traditional 40-hour workweek, benefits will present themselves in areas such as employer incentives, employee interactions, and environmental impacts I am a firm believer in the philosophy of, “if you do not love what you do, you should not being doing it”. In a traditional work environment most employees feel as if they have become citizens of a cubicle farm, trapped in a 6-by-6 foot cell.
When a company switches to a non-traditional workweek, the benefits may not immediately be accessible, but over time careful study of the program will display a rapid change in productivity increases. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5.5 million people worked at home in the period from 2006 to 2008. An unrelated study showed that 17.2 million Americans reported working from home or remotely at least one day a month in 2008.” (Brown, 2008). This must be evidence that remote or telecommute employment is not a disadvantage to company productivity. Although each company has a unique version of productive work, it is necessary to not base the same claim for every company. In deciding to integrate a telecommute program, the company needs to be reminded of financial benefits for both the company and their employees. “A happy worker, is a busy worker” needs to be the new motto and attitude businesses should adopt for employee management. “Telecommuting appears to facilitate an improvement in worker productivity. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of telecommuters from a 1995 survey and 82.6% from a 1996 telephone survey reported improved productivity and overall work performance over the prior year. Supervisors reported improved or sustained productivity (100%) and improved overall performance (96.7%) for telecommuters over the prior year” (Commonwealth, 2010). Most companies would prefer not to lose an employee during a relocation of the company. With the advent of telecommuting, the employee can potentially stay with the company, even if the office moves from one city or state to another. “For example, let’s say an employee’s spouse’s job is transferred to a city across the country. The employee likes working for his current employer, but for family reasons must move to the new location. A company that offers telecommuting might be able to keep this seasoned and productive employee working for them. This situation offers benefits for both the employee, who still has a job, along with the employer, who doesn’t have to train a new employee and retains possibly the best person for the position” (Brown, 2008).
Aside from feeling more satisfied with their jobs, many telecommuting employees claim there are benefits to the position that affect both their professional and personal lives. It has been reported that the most helpful and beneficial aspect of a telecommuting position, is the ability to create your own flexible work shifts. “This can also be a benefit for those that have many clients in different time zones” (Brown, 2008). This in turn, allows the employee more time for family and personal lives. “Along with individual flexibility, a telecommuting position can help you better balance your job with your personal life. There is a possibility for less conflict in trying to balance the demands of a family with full-time job when telecommuting” (Brown, 2008). In the wake of the recent outbreak of the H1N1 Swine Flue, many telecommuters could have been an essential key to stopping the spread of the virus. Telecommuters, are not required to be in an office every single day, thus reducing the spread of disease and sickness throughout the company. “With health officials fearing a heavy outbreak of the H1N1 flu, technology experts say there are plenty of ways for businesses to keep employees productive, even if they must close their offices” (O’Grady, 2009).
Every year more cars are driven to and from work, increasing the amount of pollution affecting our environment. What exactly can be done to improve the health of our environment? Drive less. The less we spend in our cars, driving to work, will decrease the amount of carbon dioxide or smog in the atmosphere. Carpooling can help offset the pollution created by four individual drivers, who ride-share in a single car. Why not just eliminate the car altogether with a telecommute position? “According to a 2008 study conducted by Telework Exchange, a company that aims to increase telecommuting options for workers, around 9.7 billion gallons of gas and $38.2 billion can be saved each year, if only 53 percent of all white-collar workers telecommute two days a week.” (Chen, 2010). “Research network Undressed4Success, estimates that the United Sates could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half of the time” (Chen, 2010). Imagine just how significantly better our atmosphere and environment would improve if we were to telecommute three-quarters or even full-time. “Condensing a 40-hour work week into 4 day-such as the state of Utah and others have done with resounding success-means a 20 percent reduction of pollution, gas consumption and carbon footprint for all employees, not to mention cost savings for the company” (Chen, 2010). Results from a 1995 – 1996 study in Massachusetts provided the following environment benefits of telecommuting. “Of those responding to the initial survey, 124 telecommuters reported telecommuting an average of 2.26 days per week. Utilizing the 28 average fewer miles per telecommuting day, a total of 7847 miles per week were “saved.” This translates to approximately 400,000 fewer miles driven per year, an average of 3,226 per telecommuter/per year. Based on national average, it is estimated that the telecommuters participating in this study saved roughly 18,600 gallons of fuel per year. At today’s average price for regular unleaded gasoline ($1.29/gal, 1994 average), this represents an average total dollar savings of $194 per telecommuter/per year” (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2010).
Because most telecommuting employees are given the option to decide their individual schedules, it is hard to find any negative aspects of the position. Most of the research prepared for this proposal, was written in support of promoting the idea of telecommuting. Negative aspects of the position are few and hard to discover, but I was able to discover a couple minor negative aspects regarding the position. “ Even for those whose jobs can be done remotely, telecommuting is not always the best option. Working at home can be isolating and the downfall of folks who find it difficult to stay on track and meet deadlines without supervision” (CTW Features, 2008). In government offices that have chosen to reroute employment via telecommuting a new view of the government employee has arisen in the eyes of the public. “ I don’t like it at all, because I feel we’re accountable to the taxpayer. Someone should know where we’re at during our eight hours a day,” says Bob Brinkhouse, Child Support Officer, Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department (Wertheimer, 2010).
Across the nation and the globe as well many companies have decided to start out with a trial period of telecommuting employment for a select group of employees. Every business is unique in their own business practices, but most view telecommuting as strange in the beginning, but the program does have a beneficial outcome. “One of the common problems is that traditional job design rarely incorporates telecommuting options. Although many businesses, including major corporations, adopted telecommuting as a working employment model back in the 1990’s, many mainstream employment market business models have still been designed for onsite jobs” (CVTips, 2010). When your company eventually decides to incorporate a telecommute program, expect comments or frazzled feelings from your competitors and customers alike. They may be unfamiliar with this particular style of consumerism, but the uniqueness of the idea, will stick with the mind of the public in a sense generating free publicity for the company!
“The practical reality is that anything that doesn’t have to be done onsite, can be turned into a telecommuting job” (CVTips, 2010). The current workweek of 9-to-5 Monday through Friday resulting in a 40-hour workweek, is changing rapidly. For example, countries in Europe are closely watching the French workweek. In France a traditional workweek is still 40 hours long, but is completed in just four 10-hour workdays. It seems to be working well for their economy and consumerism, why can’t we try that here? “Today’s labor laws are perfectly suited to 1960. The 40-hour week, 9-to-5, all that was codified in an era when men went off to an assembly line, and women stayed home” (Montagne, 2010). Clearly a change is necessary in our “traditional” workweek. Most families has both men and women in the workforce, this means that productivity should increase correct? Not always the case, as evidenced by the current recession our country is dealing with.
In the face of a down economy, many companies have managed to drive down operating costs, while increasing productivity and generating more business for themselves. List Innovation Solutions in northern Virginia, has nearly 100 employees who all participate in a telecommute program. “If you can give people something that can ease their day, your retention rate’s going to go way up” says Katie Sleep LIS’ owner. “In LIS’s case it went up 95 percent. And study after study show productivity also shoots up. More than half of companies now say they offer flextime, and a third allow telecommuting at least part time” (Montagne, 2010). Flex time is a policy spreading throughout the business world similar to telecommuting, because it gives employees the option to choose their own work schedules at least part time or sometimes full time. MC2 Studios in San Antonio, Texas has switched to a non-traditional shift, by allowing employees the option to telecommute. Not surprisingly, most took the option. “Last year, Malcolm Coon (founder, CEO) moved MC2 Studios from a 2,300-suare-foot office to a new one, that is just 800 square feet” (Thomas, 2009). The employee switch and subsequent move has allowed MC2 Studios to save nearly two-thirds in rent payments. “Overall, I would say it has made people more productive,” he says. “They are not spending two hours a day in traffic. Also, the ability to share tools on your desktop has made it easier to keep in touch. It has removed the need to have everyone congregate in a single location every day” (Thomas, 2009).
Perhaps one of the most successfully integrated telecommute programs was achieved by an unlikely source, a government office. “It begins with a traffic problem on 35W in Minneapolis. The state doesn’t want to pay to widen the interstate, so last year, it asked some offices along the route to let employees work from home. One of those may be the last place you’d imagine as cutting-edge, 21st –century workplace. It’s the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County, Minnesota” (Wertheimer, 2010). Productivity increased so much; the program has been named ROWE, Results Only Work Environment. “In a pure ROWE, paid time off disappears, who needs it if you make your own schedule” (Wertheimer, 2010). This success has also raised the issue of sick and vacation time piling up. At the time of this writing this issue has not been resolved, but will need to be resolved with the next labor union contract. Did telecommuting save employees sanity, and save money, is the office completely empty? Not at all, on average there are still employees in the office. “In a basement conference room, two dozen county workers line a U-shaped table” (Wertheimer, 2010). When asked why, employees responded, “old habits die hard.”
Big business is rapidly taking notice of the associated reduce in operating costs for employees that telecommute. Fortune magazine recently released their list of “100 best companies to work for. “Numbers 1. SAS, 4. Google, 16. Cisco, and 51. Microsoft” (Fortune, 2010), as well as many others all see the simplicity and effectiveness of a telecommuting program in their organization. A survey of 3600 workers in 36 markets, was performed by Microsoft Corp. evaluated each market for the percentage of workers who say their jobs can be done from working outside the office. “Boston came in first in the country, followed by, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Atlanta; and Denver. Kansas City ranked in at number five, followed by Richmond, VA; Austin, TX; New York, NY; Sacramento, CA; and Portland, OR.” (Kansas City Business Journal, 2010). “Customer service representatives might be able to take calls from home or a coffee shop just as easily as they can from an office. Lawyers can review patent contracts from home using a secure server system. Even doctors are using technology to help them diagnose patients remotely” (CVTips, 2010).
A major factor in determining whether or not to implement a telecommuting program within the company is usually related to financial costs of the program. When the idea of telecommuting began in the early 1960’s costs may have been relatively low, since most telecommute employees were salesmen or some type of skilled tradesmen offering their services along the road. In our current age of connectivity, the cost of implementing a telecommute program or hiring telecommuting employees, is an issue that is debated to have positive and negative argument points. “The reason many people choose to telecommute is because the Internet and modem communication devices have made it possible for these tasks to be performed remotely” (CVTips 2010). As technology increases the connectivity of the world, reflectively many technologies that keep us connected such as modems, cell phones, and Wi-Fi Internet service have all dropped dramatically in price. It is advisable to consult a tax account specialist to aid in purchases for a telecommuting employment position because most of these items can be classified as work-related expenses that are considered a tax write-off. Security is an issue related to financial costs of a telecommute program’s end result. Is this connection secure, are our files remaining confidential, or is a third party hacking our servers? These are some of the questions to keep in mind when examining telecommute program’s benefits. “A virtual private network with a separate hardware controller, for example, provides the most security, and phone systems that run over Internet protocols can be channeled anywhere” (O’Grady, 2009).
In a effort to help offset costs in a hectic economy, some employees are willing to negotiate salary options. “You can even offer to take a pay reduction, if appropriate, over the trial period. Many telecommuters do so because working onsite is too expensive” (CVTips, 2010). “New tools and employer tech support have made it convenient for employees to stay in touch with their managers and colleagues through calls, instant messaging, or video conferencing software” (CVTips, 2010).
In conclusion it is ultimately the company’s decision on whether or not to create and integrate a telecommuting program. Will the program boost productivity among its employees? Should a trial period be utilized to study company and employee affects to the workload? What environmental changes will we affect? Is this program cost-effective? These are questions to ponder during a decision period while reviewing the proposal for switching to a telecommute employment program. In return I challenge the following question. “Are your employees content with their current work schedule, or could revisions be necessary to the antiquated 1960’s employment model to improve attitudes”? Finally, “the practical reality is that anything that doesn’t have to be done onsite, can be turned into a telecommuting job” (CVTips, 2010). Be prepared to show your company how you are more productive and effective to the company, while completing your work with fewer distractions from your home or mobile based office.
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