The surprising reasons why telecommuting is great for business
The more technology develops, the less necessary it is for us to be at specific locations to get things done. Now we can work on the train, in an Uber, from a restaurant and, of course, from the comfort of our living room couches.
While working from home - or telecommuting - has become increasingly popular as more companies gain the infrastructure to support it, many companies still, understandably, question whether working from home is good for business.
I have to admit that I was in this latter camp. I felt that telecommuting would inhibit productivity and hurt my company culture. But with so many companies - albeit larger ones - raving about the improvement in productivity and cost savings, I felt it my duty to investigate whether telecommuting could be beneficial for my business.
Here's what I found...
Why working from home is good for employees and businesses
A 2014 study, cited in the Harvard Business Review, examined the benefits of working from home for the Chinese travel website Ctrip. For the study, Ctrip allowed half of its call-center employees to work from home for nine months.
The company's goal was simply to save money on furniture and space, but the researchers were shocked to discover that those who worked from home completed 13.5% more calls than those who worked in the office.
The lead researcher, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, said that the workers' increased productivity was likely due to the lack of distractions at home. They were also happier, and thus far less likely to quit. As a result, Ctrip saved $1,900 per year per employee who worked from home.
According to Monster, when people work from home, they also work longer hours. Eliminating commuting time can add several hours back into the work week, while also eliminating one of the worst parts of an employee's day. Those who work from home also eat healthier and report a better work-life balance. All of this contributes to lowered stress, which leads to happier, more productive employees.
And here's another benefit: A 2014 study by the University of Illinois found that those who telecommute are determined to prove their worth and justify working from home, making them more motivated and productive.
"They feel compelled to go above and beyond to make their work presence more visible, to make themselves known as assets," said Ravi S. Gajendran, study co-author. "In fact, they almost overcompensate by being extra helpful, because they know in the back of their minds that their special arrangement could easily go away."
Gajendran added that companies should not reserve working-from-home privileges for high performers alone. Allowing low performers to work from home could actually give them the motivation they need to be more productive.
What employees need when they work from home
You must be able to provide the tools telecommuters need to perform all job functions fully and effectively. You can't let your employees work from home if you don't have the technology to allow them to join meetings via video chat or access company databases.
You also need to help telecommuters stay connected to the team as a whole. Jay Steinfeld, CEO of Blinds.com, suggests requiring employees to come in to the office at least once a week so they remain strong members of the workplace culture. He also reminds employers to make sure those who work from home are included in work-related social activities.
Most experts agree that working from home is not for everyone. It requires employees to be self-motivated and organized. In addition, every company is different and should structure its work-from-home policy based on its specific model.
But if you can let employees work from home, they'll love you for it, and will likely show their gratitude by working harder. It's definitely on my list of things to introduce in the coming months.