More and more businesses are starting to experiment with telecommuting. Whether its a set day a week or a flexible schedule during the month, teleworking has increased by nearly 80 percent from 2005 to 2012.
From instant messaging to Skype and video conferencing, new technologies now allow employees to stay connected even when they're not physically together. Telework can make a real difference in improving the work-life balance. But it can also create serious managerial headaches.
To figure out whether a telecommuting policy is right for your business, here are some of the pros and cons.
Pro: Happy Employees
Keeping employees happy is the biggest benefit of telework. "Research over the last 20 years suggests that telecommuting improves employee morale and increases productivity," says Leslie Truex, author of The Work at Home Success Bible. Employees appreciate the freedom to manage their daily life and cut back on some of the commuting stress. Another plus: Telecommuters can save between $2,000 and $7,000 per year on gas and repairs, and businesses can benefit from the time employees save commuting to and from work.
Con: Distracted Employees
Maintaining focus is one of the biggest concerns with telecommuting. "Phone calls, deliveries, and easy access to a snack cabinet can deter all too easily, says Peter Metz, CEO of Skip the Drive. That's not to mention pets and children -- beloved family members for whom first-time telecommuters might not know to arrange care.
Working from home can be easier said than done, so it will take some effort from both employer and employee to ensure that productivity and employee engagement remain high during flex work arrangements.
Pro: Lower Overhead
Fewer staff in the office can also mean lower overhead costs, notes Metz. Companies can save on supplies, desks and office space by maintaining a smaller home HQ. A 2013 survey on telecommuting by Global Workplace Analytics estimates that the average business can save as much as $11,000 per person per year.
Con: Management Challenges
Keeping employees engaged and motivated when they're out of the office can add to managerial stress. When companies adopt telecommuting policies, they typically have to learn new ways of evaluating employee performance and accountability. Managers have to think about tasks completed or results achieved instead of hours worked, says Truex.
Pro: Better for Some Jobs
Leigh Steer, co-founder of Managing People Better, notes that "certain positions can be done from anywhere. For example, a salesperson spends more time with customers, either in person or by phone, so it doesn't really matter where that phone is located." Likewise, many IT jobs often don't require a brick-n-mortar office.
Con: Not Right for All
Just as some jobs work well for remote employees, others are poor fits. Interactive, team-based positions that require regular meetings can be difficult to manage with workers out of the office at different times and on different schedules. Some positions also require expensive security equipment that may be more costly for the business to maintain at different home offices.
What to Do?
When considering whether to adopt a telecommuting policy, weigh the costs -- both monetary and managerial -- with the benefits, especially for employee morale, to determine if it makes sense for your business. Remember that telework doesn't have to be all or nothing. Negotiate a plan that works best for your company and keeps your staff energized, happy and engaged.