Remote workers. Mobile professionals. Digital nomads. Road warriors. Call them what you will, but telecommuters are driving the future of work.
Telecommuting was once shrugged off as another trend for choosy millennials. Now, it’s an accepted approach to how we work (and live) and an opportunity for hiring managers to cast a global net. The World Economic Forum calls it "one of the biggest drivers of transformation" in the workforce.
But some employers still aren’t sure whether to take the plunge, worried that allowing employees to work from home means they'll never work. As it happens, the opposite is true.
If you’re curious about why so many people are going virtual or how it could benefit your business, this is the guide for you. Let’s explore how the world of remote work works and what you’ll need to get started.
What Is Telecommuting?
Telecommuting means working remotely, from home or another location outside the office. Not to be confused with self-employed freelancing, this is a working arrangement between a company and an employee. The idea is that the employee “travels” via telecommunication channels like phone, email and video conferencing when they don't need to travel to the office.
Telecommuting Stats for 2018
According to Global Workplace Analytics, telecommuting has grown by 115% since 2005. That's nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce. GWA's research also shows:
- 80% to 90% of people say they'd like to telework at least part of the week.
- 36% would choose telework over a pay raise, and 37% would take a pay cut.
- For 95% of companies, telework increases employee retention.
- 6 in 10 employers enjoy significant cost savings.
And that's only the beginning. A study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found 74% of employers now offer the option to telecommute. Gallup found that employees feel most engaged at work when off-site three or four days a week. And participants of a UK-based survey think traditional commuting will be unheard of by 2036.
Wondering why you haven't caught on yet? Don't worry. Before you hit stakeholders with the numbers, consider whether telecommuting really is the best move.
What Types of Companies Offer Telecommuting?
Impressive though it sounds, telecommuting isn't a catch-all solution. Activities that require face-to-face contact, equipment handling, or some sort of physical presence don't lend themselves well to remote environments.
As a rule of thumb, remote-friendly work falls into two categories: It's online, and/or it's independent. Telecommuting works particularly well for companies in the following industries:
- Sales and marketing
- Customer service
- Computer and information technology
- Education and training
Telecommuting companies of all sizes report multimillion-dollar cost savings from blanket telework programs. Of course, some roles translate to virtual environments better than others. Most companies evaluate eligibility on a case-by-case basis, according to the candidate's job requirements, past performance, and time in the role.
What about hiring remote workers? You have a few options. Remote-specific job boards like FlexJobs, Remote.co, We Work Remotely, Remote OK, and Jobspresso target (but can't guarantee) people with remote experience. You could also post the job on LinkedIn, Indeed, or your job search engine of choice, making it clear that remote is an option.
The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting
Telecommuting benefits both employers and employees, but it isn't without its drawbacks. Let's compare both sides.
For Your Business
The best telecommuters are rare creatures. Not everyone can self-regulate and communicate effectively from anywhere.
On the plus side, you're saving office space, which means there's no need to worry about your company's potential growth. And here's the interesting part: Office space for the average worker costs about $11,000 per year. Limiting manpower reduces major overhead while doing the environment a solid. Even better, you increase employee satisfaction and retention, which leads us to the pros and cons.
Developing the self-motivation and discipline needed to work from home is arguably more challenging than finding it. Some remote workers also report feeling lonely or directionless.
But if done right, telecommuting reaps big rewards. While saving time, money, and the planet, most telecommuters find that working from home (or coffee shop, or cabin in the woods) creates a work-life balance, a distraction- and stress-free environment, and a greater sense of control over their work.
Together, these benefits make for happy employees. And happy employees are usually great employees. An enormous 91% of remote workers feel more productive working at home. So, the more remote workers, the bigger the dent in the trillions of dollars U.S. companies lose to productivity issues each year and the greater your workforce retention. It's a no-brainer, right?
For Both Employer and Employee
Well, not quite. It's important that your candidate's priorities align with your own.
For example, is in-person collaboration more important to your company than making room for future growth? Perhaps it's not the right time for your employees to telecommute yet. However, you might be willing to invest in tech that makes remote team-building much smoother (more on that later).
Consider what you're willing to trade off. Then, find a compromise.
With that foundation laid, you're ready to set formal boundaries.
Telecommuting Policy: Why Your Business Needs One
In any area of your business, time or resource constraints can put policymaking on the back burner. The same is true with telecommuting, especially on a casual or temporary basis. Though nearly two-thirds of companies allow telecommuting, fewer than half have formalized a policy.
So are they necessary? The short answer: Yes.
In a remote workforce, there's greater potential for unclear expectations. Miscommunication can quickly escalate without a policy in place. With one, you set clear goals from the start.
How to Create a Telecommuting Policy
You won't find a perfect set of parameters for every business. Feel free to adjust according to legal requirements in your industry, and consult legal counsel. For the most part, though, your telecommuting policy should cover the following:
- Eligibility and approval
- Equipment and cybersecurity
- Workspace and location
- Dependent care
For each clause, ask yourself a few important questions:
Eligibility and Approval
Do you need a formal process for vetting and approving remote employees? Are you looking for specific attitudes or work ethics in your candidates (like strong communication or responsiveness)? Should they go through supervisors or higher up the chain of command?
How many days per week can employees telecommute, if not full time? Does it depend on seniority or other factors? Should your employees be reachable during core business hours? Or do they have the freedom to choose as they get the job done?
Equipment and Cybersecurity
Will you provide your remote workers with any equipment (such as computers, phones, desks, or office supplies)? Who owns and maintains it? Are passwords enough to protect your corporate data, or do you need encryption and GPS tracking? Should employees avoid unsecured coffee-shop wifi?
Workspace and Location
Should your employee work in a dedicated office space? Should that be secure, too? Is it safe? Check with your legal team, but you may be liable for injuries within work hours. As for location, should telecommuters stay within a certain radius or are you limited by country or state?
What are the best ways for employees to contact you? Will you set regular check-in calls? Perhaps less-frequent (monthly or quarterly) on-site requirements? How can you make yourself and your remote worker's team as approachable as possible?
Whether it involves the kids or the dog, telecommuting is not a substitute for dependent care. You can and should make exceptions for sick family members, but employees need to design a schedule for dedicated work.
Expect candidates to make a case for their individual needs, but try stick to the same rules for everyone. Consistency trumps the favoritism card.
That said, you may need to update your policy as you learn what's working and what's not.
Best Practices for Remote Team Management
Now that we've covered the pros, cons, policies, and what other telecommuting companies are doing, we'll wrap up with four best practices for managing the remote team of dreams.
1. Use a communication platform.
Virtual communication doesn't have to be a roadblock. Often better planned, phone- and web-based conferences cut through
Try a video and audio conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype for Business, or Slack. And not just to collaborate. Get creative with ways to build trust and connections in your team, like sharing wacky office photos or setting up dedicated "fun" chats.
2. Head to the cloud.
It's easy to lose track of projects within a dispersed team. Take advantage of cloud-based file hosting providers like Dropbox and Google Drive to sync and store work online. Trello, Basecamp, or one of these project management tools can also keep everyone organized and track productivity.
3. Don’t be a stranger.
You don’t want to micromanage employees, but you do want to be available and supportive, track progress, and keep them in the loop. How about regular coaching? A weekly one-to-one should do it. A quarterly meet-up or yearly off-site goes the extra mile in making remote workers feel part of the team.
4. Celebrate success.
Technically, feedback is part of coaching. But it's more important and easier to forget when working remotely, so it deserves its own spot here.
To create a great feedback culture:
- Involve the entire team.
- Get face time when possible to deliver constructive criticism the way it's intended.
- When your employee does a great job, let them know!
It may sound obvious, but some supervisors don't realize they've left remote workers hanging — or the negative effects. Positive (and detailed) feedback builds amazing team spirit.
Not fully on board yet? Here's your biggest takeaway: Test and tweak as you learn what works for you and your workforce. Start small with a handful of employees, measure productivity and roll out a larger telecommuting structure if all goes well.
But if you're sold, go for it! Considering the positive impact on the business and its people, telework is worth considering before your competitors do.