From a distance, telecommuting and the idea of working from home looks like a sweet deal. Closer inspection, however, reveals that there are both advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting that are important to consider before you sell your car and set up a home office.
Who wouldn’t want to set their own hours, have flexibility to get things done during the day, and take a miss on the flu when it starts working around the office? Since the advent of telecommuting in the 1970’s, companies and workers alike have touted the benefits of telecommuting that they enjoy: greater efficiency, higher productivity, and decreased absenteeism. These outcomes are hard to ignore when they’re described with the zeal typical of telecommuting evangelists.
Yet the question continues to be asked: do the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting balance each other or is there a clear winner?
The advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting
In 2015, university researchers Tammy Allen, Timothy Golden, and Kristen Shockley conducted a meta-analysis of existing research on telecommuting to uncover the truth about the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting. Their findings paint a more tempered conceptualisation of the claims made by people on either side of the telecommuting debate and bring to light hidden benefits of telecommuting that the average punter may not have considered.Thinking of #telecommuting? Check out the advantages and disadvantages... #careertips Click To Tweet
Considering the worker
The advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting are felt the most severely by the telecommuting workers themselves.
It turns out that there is a positive relationship between telecommuting and job satisfaction, but not a strong one by any stretch. The most interesting finding here is that the amount of telecommuting plays a part. At lower frequencies, telecommuting can be seen to correlate with increases in job satisfaction but this relationship plateaus when workers telecommute more frequently.
Unsurprisingly, job satisfaction is highest among telecommuters whose personalities are defined by a need for order and autonomy.
Commitment to the team
As with job satisfaction, there is a positive but insignificant relationship between telecommuting and the worker’s commitment to the organization.
Interestingly, flexibility is key with this metric – workers who are able to choose between working from home or reporting to the office (rather than being expected to exclusively work from home) displayed more commitment to the organization than their office-bound counterparts.
Productivity and job performance
A study of workers who were randomly assigned to telecommute showed them to be more productive on objective scales for performance (as well as more satisfied and loyal to the organization). Unfortunately, they were less likely to be promoted when productivity was held constant (potentially revealing a bias toward workers who can be supervised in person).
Another study showed telecommuters received higher scores on objective performance scales than did non-telecommuters.
One of the more surprising findings was from a study that found telecommuters enjoyed higher wages when they began to telecommute. More interesting still: this increase levelled out after one year of telecommuting.
Stress and exhaustion
You are unlikely to be shocked by this conclusion: telecommuting has been shown to be associated with lower stress and exhaustion. As with job satisfaction and commitment, however, the effect is negligible.
That said, the more you telecommute, the less exhausted you’re likely to be. As workers telecommute more and more and gain experience with telecommuting, exhaustion levels continue to drop.
Increased domestic expectations
Common sense dictates that working from home will place new expectations on you and your time, but the problem can be worse than anticipated if your family isn’t understanding of your new boundaries. It’s easy for your partner to have increased expectations for your domestic capabilities which can serve to distract you from your work and cause your work-life balance to blow out.
Feelings of isolation
A 2012 online poll revealed that 62% of respondents felt socially isolated when telecommuting. Reality relies again on frequency: those who telecommute more often suffer lower quality relationships with their coworkers than those who telecommute less often.
Considering the company
Of course, the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting are also felt on the organizational side.
Despite all the talk about how telecommuting is a desired option for workers, research shows that there is no discernable link between the availability of telecommuting and an organization’s turnover rate.
Naturally, this could come back to factors that are more traditionally associated with high turnover. The ability to telecommute won’t do much for workers if the organizational culture is poisoned, their boss is a jerk, or the pay leaves something to be desired. By itself, the option to telecommute will not transform a crappy job at a crappy company into a destination job.Whoever told you #telecommuting decreases turnover lied to you... #careertips Click To Tweet
The research confirms common sense in this case: a relationship can be traced between telecommuting and lower rates of absenteeism.
However, this may represent a dark side of telecommuting. While telecommuting makes it easier for workers to be productive on days they wouldn’t have gone into the office (for fear of spreading disease or otherwise), it may not be in the worker’s best interests to continue working while unwell. Such patterns can prolong sickness and generate feelings of ill will toward the organization if not kept in check.
Allen, Golden and Shockley highlight an interesting contradiction when it comes to organizational culture: companies typically associated with developing products that make telecommuting easier (like Google and Apple) champion in-person workplace interaction within their own organizations.
Culture, of course, is difficult to maintain among geographically-dispersed team members. The likes of Google and Apple value the creativity that arises from so-called “water cooler” chats and cross-pollination between departments. This continues to be a weakness of teams that rely on telecommuting but it’s not impossible to overcome.
Trust and knowledge sharing
The first step to getting past this crisis of culture is to establish trust and maintain the structures that facilitate knowledge sharing (critical for any organization) – and in that order. A study of telecommuters over six months revealed that where trust, strong interpersonal bonding, and commitment to the organization was present, so too was knowledge sharing.
Media richness theory tells us that traditional digital communication tools such as email lack “social richness” because emotion and non-verbal cues don’t survive the translation.
Blrt overcomes this shortfall in communication by restoring human emotion to digital collaboration. Telecommuters who employ Blrt are able to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites to get everybody on the same page within cloud-based conversations. Because Blrt is asynchronous, everybody replies in their own time and your projects continue to move forward.
Considering the community
The advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting have the ability to extend past the worker and organization and into the community at large.
It has been suggested by many a loud voice that telecommuting is good for the environment as it keeps cars off the road and thereby reduces emissions. Unfortunately, the opposite may be true.
One study that analyzed data from 1966 to 1999 revealed that telecommuting may be responsible for a decrease in driven miles in the USA – but by less than one percent.
A more recent study (2001 to 2009), meanwhile, revealed that telecommuters actually drove more than their non-telecommuting counterparts. Common sense suggests that this is due to the running of errands during the day that office workers would accomplish during the drive to and/or from work (thereby driving fewer miles in total) but whatever the cause, telecommuting might actually be worse for the environment than moving everybody back into rush hour traffic.It turns out #telecommuting might actually be WORSE for the #environment... #careertips Click To Tweet
Continuity of service
Along the same logical lines that allow for lower absenteeism, telecommuting also allows for continuity of essential services in instances such as natural disasters. When governmental offices have to shut down during a state of emergency, for example, vital services can still be provided by telecommuters.
Opportunities for the disadvantaged
Telecommuting is a fantastic opportunity for disabled or otherwise disadvantaged members of the community to gain employment. Likewise, telecommuting can increase employment rates in rural areas where local industry has collapsed and left the area economically depressed.
Restoring the local community
There is a fear among some that the move toward telecommuting and remote work may lead to the fragmentation of society and a collapse of social and cultural norms, yet it’s easy to see that more time at home should lead to better familial ties at the very least.
As bleak as the idea of society breaking apart may be, some futurists have posited that it may lead to the re-establishment of tightly-knit local communities centered around families. Considering that telecommuters spend more time in and around their neighborhood, this makes a lot of sense. As the workforce shifts out of the office and back into neighborhoods, the village may be born again.
Telecommuting with Blrt
There may be advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting, but tools like Blrt will help you maximize the former and minimize the latter.
Get started returning the emotion to your remote work today:
Blrt helps you get your point across quickly by allowing you to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites. The resulting video-like recording is called a Blrt.
Your Blrts require much less bandwidth than video and can be shared with anyone on mobile or desktop. This makes Blrt ideal for both collaboration and the creation and sharing of dynamic content, as public Blrts can be embedded into any webpage.
Once recorded, Blrts are stored in the cloud and are exchanged with others in a conversation-like fashion. A record is kept of the exchange, and new parties and media can be added at any time.
Blrt shifts time and place, allowing users in a conversation to participate in their own time. In an era where activity-based working and distributed teams are commonplace, Blrt is revolutionising the way people interact to get things done.