What is telecommuting? Definition and meaning
Telecommuting, also known as teleworking, means working remotely, which in most cases means working at home, but may also occur at a local telework center, a café, or even on a train. In all cases, the telecommuter is using modern technology and communications to work – but not at his or her employer’s offices.
If you are self-employed or run your own business and work at home, you are also telecommuting.
Put simply, telecommuting means using modern communication tools and technology to perform work duties from a remote location.
How we spend our leisure time, do our shopping, communicate with friends, watch movies, and work has been changing rapidly ever since the Internet arrived at the end of the last century. Telecommuting is likely to become more common than office-based working within the next thirty years, experts predict.
In order to function successfully as a telecommuter, a person must typically have:
- a computer
- access to an email account
- access to teleconferencing or videoconferencing technology (not always necessary)
- a mobile phone
- a fax machine (not always necessary)
- a printer (not always necessary)
Employees make friends in the office – many say they would have no social life otherwise. Millions of people across the world met their spouses at work. Many teleworkers spend some of their time at their local cafe – and work there. Will the cafe fill that gap – the social isolation that comes from working at home?
Telecommuting advantages for the employer
Telecommuting offers many advantages to both the employer and employee, and in some cases, some disadvantages.
– Lower running costs. If the worker is not using up employer’s office space, electricity, water, heating, that is a saving. A business with 100 employees, all office-based, has higher running costs than the same sized company with half its workers telecommuting.
– Better recruitment opportunities. If a job can be done from home, applicants for that position could live in any part of the country, and not just within daily commuting distance. In fact, they could even live abroad.
Whoever employs people to work at home has to make sure that the person is fully capable of working on his or her own. The telecommuter needs to be as effective as his or her colleagues who work in the office.
The employer has to trust the telecommuter – this is a risk. Some individuals do not perform so well if there is nobody physically present supervising them.
When there is telecommuting, the employer has to be prepared to have less control.
If you are telecommuting, do not fall into the trap of thinking it is all about multitasking – it is not! You need to prioritize. Organize your time so that you can focus 100% on your job during your working hours.
Telecommuting: advantages for the telecommuter
– You get more sleep. As you don’t have to travel to work, you can get up later.
– You work in a familiar and comfortable environment, your home.
– You don’t have to spend money traveling to and from work.
– You become a much more flexible player regarding your family needs – it is easier to be on top of things at home.
– If you work for yourself, you do not need to spend money renting office space.
Bear in mind that telecommuting is not for everybody. You will have much less interaction with colleagues. There will be far fewer opportunities to meet other people, bounce ideas in the office, or forget about your personal problems by arranging after-work get-togethers with colleagues.
If you are part of a team, and are the only one telecommuting, you may find that you eventually become treated as the ‘outsider’ – you might find it much harder to work as a fully-integrated member of the team. If the other team members are physically closer to the boss, their promotion prospects could be better than yours.
For people who feel that their personal and working lives should be completely separate, working at home is not a good idea.
If you work at home, there is nobody there to push you to get things done. Are you a self-motivated person? Are you able to work effectively under your own steam?
Who is going to start work more refreshed and alert, the employee on the subway who has to endure 60 minutes standing up in cramped conditions, or the telecommuter who enjoys a cup of coffee and chat at home?
Telecommuting more common today
According to Global Workplace Analytics, half of all US workers hold a job that is compatible with at least partial telework. Between 20% and 25% of American workers are telecommuters to some extent.
Most US workers – 80% to 90% – say that they would like to be telecommuting at least part time. Two to three days per week appears to be the ‘sweet spot’ that allows for an ideal work-home balance.
Fortune 1000 companies globally are completely revamping their space around the fact that workers are already extremely mobile. Several studies have shown that employees are not at their desk for at least 50% of their time.
The average American telecommuter is forty-nine years old and is college educated. He or she earns an average salary of $58,000 while working for an employer with over 100 workers.
Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group, once said: “In 30 years time, as technology moves forward even further, people are going to look back and wonder why offices ever existed.” (Image: twitter.com/richardbranson)
Seventy-five percent of telecommuters earn more than $65,000 annually, putting them in the upper 80th percentile of all employees – home or office-based – in the US.
A survey by Gallup in 2015 found that 37% of American workers said they had telecommuted to some extent, which was thirty percent more than in 2005 and four times more than in 1995.
The average American worker was telecommuting for two days per month in 2015. Most companies said that their telecommuters were as productive as their office-based workers.
In the United Kingdom, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported that since the advent of the Internet, telecommuting has increased dramatically across the country. In 2015, one in every seven British employees was a telecommuter.
There were more than four million telecommuting British employees in 2015, which represented 13.7% of the country’s workforce.
Modern technology and telecommunications have made telecommuting easier for employees. Most companies are willing to allow their staff to carry out their duties away from the office, at least on a part-time basis.
Yahoo banned telecommuting
Even though we associate telecommuting with progressive, hi-tech companies, Yahoo went against the grain when Marissa Mayer took the helm in 2013.
She got the Human Resources department to send a memo to all staff banning them from working from home. The memo said:
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group, who spends much of his time telecommuting on Necker Island in the Caribbean, called Ms. Mayer’s move a ‘backward step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”
Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, co-founder of Microsoft, when asked about Yahoo’s new policy, did not directly disagree with Ms. Mayer, but pointed to the massive benefits of Skype and other hi-tech tools for working more effectively at a distance.
Video – Telecommuting is good for business
This Minute MBA video explains why telecommuting is not only good for workers, but also for companies. A study showed that call center employees were 13% more productive when working from home. Another study found that telecommuters work at least five hours more per week than their office-based colleagues.