Do Companies and Their Employees Benefit from Telecommuting?

No one can deny that we are living in an age that’s becoming more and more digital in nature. Mobile phones and computers are ubiquitous, allowing people to do business with online financial institutions like Ally Bank and manage their finances from just about anywhere.

These same devices allow many workers the luxury of performing their duties from home. But with Fortune 500 companies Yahoo and Best Buy recently announcing that they would no longer allow employees to work from home, there’s a fresh debate as to whether or not the option has real benefits.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reasoned that ending the company’s work-from-home program would promote “communication and collaboration,” according to an internal email published by All Things D. The memo went on to note, “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.”

But while Mayer claimed she was reversing company policy to build a better workplace, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research highlighted the benefits of telecommuting.

About 10 percent of U.S. employees regularly work from home, according to the study. The study found that working remotely led to a 13 percent performance increase, 9 percent of which was due to employees working more minutes per shift (i.e., fewer breaks and sick days). It also found that employees who were able to work from home reported improved work satisfaction, and that companies experienced less turnover.

A Fast Company infographic lays out additional benefits. It notes that half the U.S. workforce – or 64 million people – have the option to telecommute at least part-time. If all those people did in fact work from home 50 percent of the time, their decreased oil consumption would equal one-third of America’s yearly Persian Gulf imports. The reduction in greenhouse gas, meanwhile, would equal the amount saved if the entire New York State workforce never commuted again.

Fast Company points to health benefits as well. According to its infographic, the average employee says working from home decreased their stress by 25 percent, while 3 in 4 employees say they eat healthier when working from home.

In a piece for Forbes, Cy Wakeman writes that she sees the benefits of telecommuting for both employer and employees, but notes that, of course, there may be times when a policy needs to be amended in order to better the workplace. She advises employers to focus on hiring people who are accountable and don’t need constant monitoring. Another suggestion: Punishing “low performers” – those who don’t get much done at home – instead of launching a policy that punishes workers who can handle the responsibility of working from home.

In a New York Times series focusing on working from home, Anne-Laure Fayard of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University notes, “‘Telecommuting’ has lost much of its meaning, as the nature of work is changing and the lines between work and time off are becoming fuzzier.”

Fayard says there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to telecommuting and encourages managers to “experiment at the frontiers of virtual and face-to-face interactions.”

Do you work in an office that allows telecommuting? What are the benefits and drawbacks of working from home?

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