The Benefits of Telecommuting

Today I had the opportunity to telecommute into work from home, so I thought I would put together a post about my day as it unfolds in order to journal it’s effectiveness toward maintaining a much happier and more productive employee. For those just tuning in, this is a follow-on to my earlier post detailing my average working day since I’ve moved out into the suburbs: A Word on Motivation.

The New and Improved “Commute into Work”!
As it takes me the better part of 7 seconds to walk the distance from my bedroom to my study at the other side of my house, this morning I was able to enjoy a sensational sleep in (well, by contrast to my average day). Then with time to kill, I made myself my favorite N-espresso coffee and a hot bowl of Uncle Tobys oats (it’s still winter at time of writing this), then armed with my awesome breakfast I make my way to settle in comfortably at my PC and remote into work.

Reasons Why my “at-home” Working Environment Rocks
While my work has been kind enough to provide me with two 19″ monitors, my home PC has a magnificent 3 x 27″ wide-screen high-res DELL monitors which wrap around to capture almost my full field of vision when I’m seated at my desk. They sit on a black-leather office desk which is also very spacious and I have a high-back leather reclining office chair. You couldn’t wish for a better working environment! I’m comfortable. Ergonomically seated with respect to my keyboard and mouse, and have some SERIOUS screen real-estate to work with. Next to me there is a window looking out over a quiet, suburban street – completely free of distractions and interruptions. With this scene in mind, we move onto my working day! (Picture above is not my actual desk btw).

The Benefits of Telecommuting
The first and most immediate benefit which come to mind in this arrangement is that I am considerably more refreshed with the extra sleep I was able to get this morning. There’s definitely much to be said about allowing your body to rise with its natural sleep cycles. Consequently, I was able to make some unprecedented headway through my massive backlog of emails this morning – something which back at work would almost certainly have been hampered by numerous interruptions as staff arrive at the office, greet each other, stop by for a chat etc.

The day goes on as most days do. A plethora of emails stream into my inbox, communicator chat windows popup as people throw ad-hoc questions and requests at me, and jobs roll in through our in-house ticketing system. As with most jobs I guess, I have fairly well defined responsibilities within my role, so it’s rarely the case that there isn’t much to do. One thing which did occur to me though as the day drew to a close, was that through work from home I was ideally positioned to take on after-hours tasks. The imposition of this type of work was considerably less offensive from the comfort of my own home, than were I stuck in a cold, empty workplace waiting for 6pm to roll by before being able to start. Extending this idea further, the concept of having telecommuters cover the outer extremities of rostered shifts would also provide more quality of life to those who do need to go into work and would otherwise have been stuck there until close of business day (clearly IT context here).

So with my work desk phone forwarded through to my mobile and online via the in-office communicator program and email, I made a point to ensure I was just as readily accessible as were I in work and at my desk – so much so that most of the people I interacted with during my day had no idea I wasn’t even there! Surely this has to be a positive indicator in favour of telecommuting! Then there’s also the added bonus that if I was on the phone, any incoming calls from the office now had a personal voice mail service available for the caller to leave a message on, which at work would not have otherwise been the case.

Ok so at this point we’ve established the following benefits;

  • More sleep, more rested and consequently more productive employee
  • Flexibility hours, and increased ability to take on extended hours work
  • Fewer non-work related interruptions
  • More relaxed and comfortable working environment

Next up we should probably consider the financial aspects; with the rising cost of public transport, petrol, inner city parking, depreciation on the motor vehicle as well as all the sundry expenses associated with being away from home such as lunches and coffees. There are environmental considerations too, with the ever increasing traffic congestion problems spewing tonnes of pollution into our atmosphere each day. And in a society where we are all already time-poor, the most offensive aspect of all (in my opinion at least), the completely inefficient use of our time when having to partake in this daily commute! For myself I calculated about two hours per day was being written off in transit in and out of work. Just imagine – what could you do with a 2 extra hours each day? … that’s another 10 hours per week!

Now, I should probably also give a special mention to the absolute awesomeness that is having your own private bathroom available to you. No longer do you have to suffer the moans and groans of a shared toilet experience, forced to listen to the guy next to you giving birth in his cubile while trying to mask your own bodily transgression… toilet paper on the water to “break the fall”… controlled releases of flatulence so that your “roomy” doesn’t hear you and pass judgement… nope. At home, you can just grip it and rip it. When you want. How you want. In the complete comfort and privacy of your own bathroom, and with none of the communal toilet hygiene issues.

On a slightly more cultured note, let’s also take a moment consider how much we’re paying for these beautiful homes of ours. For most of us, an average home loan is costing us anything between $1500 – $3000 in interest / rent each month (possibly even more?). Wouldn’t it be great then if we could actually get to spend some more time in them? And if the options were available and we could telecommute full-time, we wouldn’t even need to live so close to the city, creating opportunities to afford even more beautiful homes a little further out!

In Conclusion…
Let me preface this next section in saying that I am by no means blind to the merits of the conventional office environment. The social interactivity which takes place allows people to feed of the energies and enthusiasm of those around them. It creates a dynamic environment that encourages creativity, brain storming and new ideas. Problem solving through focus groups and meetings allow for arguably much faster resolutions than were these to be approached by isolated individuals. It facilitates new friendships and relationships, as well as allows people to fully embrace a team culture and all the inherent benefits of cross-skilling, mentoring and healthy competition which falls incumbent to that… however…

We are in the 21st century now and there are just too many compelling arguments in favour of offering such flexible working arrangements that it would be truly remiss not to seriously consider these. A 2009 trial undertaken as part of a QLD Transport and Main Roads Pilot study found statistically significant results that employees were not only happier but also MORE productive when working in an environment where they felt more relaxed and comfortable. Some of there other finding also identified;

  • The pilot achieved a 34% reduction in morning peak hour travel and a 32% reduction in afternoon peak hour travel amongst participants.
  • The initiative eliminated some journeys altogether through participants adopting telecommuting and compressed work weeks/fortnights
  • Of the three flexible practices offered, flexible hours were the most popular. Many participants chose to use more than one practice.
  • Both employees and employers indicated they had achieved increased productivity through working flexibly during the pilot.
  • 87% of participants reported improvement in their work-life balance.
  • There was high satisfaction with flexible work arrangements – 92% of participants expressed an interest in continuing their arrangements.

… the full report can be downloaded here: Flexible Workplace Pilot.

Couple the above with modern day broadband speeds and telecommuting technologies such as Citrix or Windows Terminal services – both of which offering high quality and secure remote desktop access… why would we still insist in forcing ourselves to endure conventional 1950’s work practices; being stuck at a desk in a budget chair that’s slowly destroying our backs, while sucking in the communal air of a shared office environment…. was that a sneeze that just exploded from the guy next to me? … followed by a violent emptying of his head into a tissue and the air all around him? But not to fear people, I’m sure THAT won’t be circulating through our internal air conditioning system… right? 😉

For the old-school operators out there, I can already hear the wailing and nashing of teeth at the very notion of this idea; “But how can you control this? What if you have employees who aren’t performing?” … Firstly I’ll say that having a little faith in your staff that they will do the right thing will go a long, long way – especially when their work performance is directly linked to them receiving such an opportunity. But in the event that they did abuse this, then you would most likely discover this in the exact same way as were they skiving off at their work desk; things start to fall through the cracks, you hear reports of them being constantly unavailable and work tasks repeated get escalated up to you for updates (as a manager or team lead). The reprimanding would then be the same as with in-office workers; privileges are promptly revoked, the staff member is placed back at their desk and slapped… with a mandatory 1-3 months sentence of intensive micromanagement to look forward to. Generally speaking though, if an employee has no work ethic to start with then they’re probably not going to be the best suited for such an arrangement anyway. That said too, these employees would probably be equally as useless regardless of where they’re seated – so in this instance, telecommuting would again serve to move the good employees away from such disruptive influences.

In summary, there are clearly many benefits offered through flexible working arrangement such as telecommuting, however a full time telecommuting arrangement risks losing out on the valuable social interactivity of a conventional workplace. So while different solutions will work better for different businesses and organizational types / structures, a balance between the two approaches would arguably serve to capture the best of both worlds. Then as a consequence of this, the organisation is rewarded with happier and more productive employees, a better performing business with a lower staff turnover!

For those interested in some extra reading on tnhi; Queensland Transport and Main Roads’ Guidelines for effective transition and management of Telecommuting arrangements, a general article on the Benefits and Drawback of Telecommuting, and 6 Organizational Benefits of Telecommuting.

Check out the full 4 days of Dilbert’s Telecommuting experience here!

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