Several weeks ago I was conducting some research on telecommuting (working form home) and I ran across an older article from the Wall Street Journal titled “The Boss Wants You Back in the Office,” which--like hundreds of articles before it--claims that telecommuting and remote work are in decline. The article uses the same exact six companies (IBM, Aetna, Best Buy, Honeywell, Bank of America, and Reddit Inc.) that have been cited more times than something stupid the Kardashians did as the defacto go to reference that telecommuting is failing or on decline.
Additionally it is usually paired those examples with this statistic: “The portion of U.S. workers who performed all or some of their work at home fell to 22% last year, from 24% in 2015.” When you pick and choose stats and examples to prove your agenda, you can manipulate data to show telecommuting is on the outs. Yet this is really far from the case for many reasons which I will explain.
Granted from some traditionalists there will be a level of skepticism - "how do we know you aren't doing the same thing?" - at the end of the day regardless of what objective data is presented it all comes down to a subjective decision of the CEO or manager.
Here at Tapestry Digital Services we are a 100% telecommuting company. We have a mail-drop address for legal purposes - but our entire work force of contract workers is achieved via remote work. I put that out there because to be completely transparent. We know it works so we are biased towards it. Now that we have all that out of the way... here's my case.
First, however, I want to ask three simple questions based on your own experience:
1) What percentage of people who you know personally who work in an office do their job entirely--meaning 100% of the time--only from their employer’s office?
2) What percentage of people do you know who check work email, take phone/video calls, or work on documents/files/projects on their phone, tablet, or computer when they’re not in the office? This could be from home, during their commute, while eating out, from the airport when travelling, anywhere else than the office.
Generally I believe that it is important to ask people these questions, the answers are typically low for the first one, and high for the second. Which makes sense that they should be inverse of each other, as it's really the same question just asked differently.
So one last question is....
3) Do YOU think telecommuting really on the decline?
The thing is, most people don’t consciously acknowledge that the definition of telecommuting is just doing work outside of an office by phone, tablet, or computer, rather they think of it as "all or nothing," or something that only happens when it's approved by HR. Therefore, most people also don’t realize that this means almost all office workers nowadays are also a remote workers to some degree, but it's true. Here's 5 reasons why telecommuting is real, why it isn't going anywhere but up and why you should consider it.
1. There are many reports that show telecommuting as a trend is increasing, not decreasing.
Trends show cumulative action, not singular. In contrast to the Wall Street Journal article, there are plenty of credible surveys that have the opposite conclusion and show that the demise of telecommuting is not really a thing. For example, Gallup data cited in the New York Times (Out of the Office: More People Are Working Remotely, Survey Finds), commute data and telecommuting covered in the Washington Post (Travel trends show power of telecommuting), a survey from the Global Leadership Summit written about on Fast Company (Will Half of People Be Working Remotely By 2020?), and most recently a survey we underwrote with experts Global Workplace Analytics on The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce. I could go on and on, but I won't because this is a Facebook article for Pete's sake, so hopefully you get the gist.
2. There are far more companies adopting telecommuting than there are ditching it.
It’s important to note that most of the popular examples of companies focus on only one or two individual cases in a given year… hardly marking a huge “trend.” Specifically, while IBM did end their program this year, Honeywell and Aetna ended or reduced their programs in 2016, Bank of America and Reddit in 2014, and Yahoo and Best Buy in 2013.
Meanwhile in just the past year or so, other top companies such as Amazon, Salesforce, Philips, Nielsen, Xerox, Dell, K12 About.com and Cigna have all announced they are expanding their remote work programs and hiring more people to work from home. And annually, FlexJobs tracks telecommuting hiring trends to highlight the top 100 companies likely to offer remote jobs in the year ahead, based on the previous year’s data; a list which includes companies ranging from Fortune 500’s, to solid SMB’s, as well as fast-growing startups.
If you take a look at the remote work resource Remote.co, you’ll also find interviews with an ever-growing list of forward-thinking companies of which 50% or more of their workforce and/or teams are remote, including companies like American Express, Automatic, and GitHub. Currently there are 127 companies on Remote.co sharing why remote work is integral to their business model and the many benefits.
Also, (a shameless plug for TraD) there's a conference coming up in September called The TRaD* Works Forum (*Telecommuting, Remote, and Distributed) that is focused on the growth implementation, and effects of telecommuting. Some of the companies leading these conversations include Xerox, ADP, Microsoft, Upwork, and Dell, as well as thought leaders from Johns Hopkins University, MIT, and The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance, among others. It is definitely something worth attending if you haven't yet.
3. “Collaboration” and “serendipity” can and do happen outside the office.
Ah, the proximity myth. A common theme heard from companies when they explain why they want their workers in the office is for the “serendipity events”… water cooler brainstorming, ideas thought up while in the elevator with a colleague, and the like. It’s a surprisingly esoteric and un-measurable activity for companies, which are typically driven by P&Ls and countless other metrics, to include as a significant factor by which to make such a far-reaching and financially impactful decision.
Also, it's just plain ridiculous to think that similar serendipitous conversations can’t happen remotely. They most definitely do, and good managers know how to stimulate this sort of innovation regardless of where people are located. Plus, just think of how often you talk on the phone to friends or family members and happen to come up with an idea, or solve a problem, or are surprised by a thought. It’s very similar with remote colleagues, and I can easily say that the productive “serendipity” at our remote company is among the best I’ve ever had in my career.
4. Telecommuting is a public policy.
As someone who has dedicated a large part of my career to the remote and flexible work space, I am extremely excited and optimistic for the future of remote work. In so many ways, individuals, companies, and governments are embracing telecommuting as a viable option that benefits people, the economy, the environment, and society as a whole.
And there are so many well-known companies from a huge variety of industries that embrace and actively promote their telecommuting programs, but telecommuting is also becoming public policy. From the federal government to the local level, policies have been proposed or passed into law that support workers’ ability to use telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements.
- The 2010 Telework Enhancement Act requires the largest government agencies to allow telecommuting to the fullest extent possible.
- 30 states have adopted flexible and remote work policies for state government employees.
- 2 states and 6 cities have enacted “right to quest” laws that protect workers’ rights to ask for flexible work options.
Public and private partnerships are springing up in states with rural populations--like Maine and Montana--with the goal of attracting residents who can move to the state and find work through telecommuting. And telecommuting extends internationally: I am proud to be a part of the Mobile Minds Project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Migration. The goal of Mobile Minds is to explore the global impact of remote work and as it relates to both the mobility of the twenty-first century workforce and workplace.
5. When a telecommuting program ends, there are usually other, much deeper problems within the company.
“Companies tend to clamp down on telework during periods of turmoil and reinvention,” said Ken Matos of Life Meets Work in the WSJ article. Matos hit the nail on the head when it comes to the underlying reasons that companies might end or reduce a telecommuting program: Most of the time, it’s an attempt to solve a much larger problem.
Sometimes companies are having market performance issues or experiencing declining revenues. Other times, layoffs are already happening, or the company is attempting to avoid layoffs by ending telecommuting with the idea that many experienced telecommuters will resign rather than come back to the office. There may be managerial problems overall, or specific issues related to managing a telecommuting workforce. Many of these were factors in IBM rolling back its program and when Yahoo "banned" telecommuting.
If you look closely at a company’s overall situation when they decide to reduce telecommuting, it really is never just about telecommuting in and of itself. There’s usually quite a bit more to the story.
So you are probable saying right now, that's all swell find and dandy but what are the benefits to me as a manager or a CEO or an owner? Well I am so glad you asked ;-)
One of the biggest benefits to telecommuting is that it encourages work-life balance. Telecommuters waste less time prepping to get out the door. They also spend less time commuting, and therefore dealing with the stress of traffic. Less time on the road means more time to focus on personal things like family, home, and development. This in turn can generate higher satisfaction and happiness.
Then there's increase productivity. When distractions and interruptions from office chatter disappear, you will focus better and achieve more. As a result, telecommuters enjoy increased productivity and overall well-being. This can easily equate to a minimum of 17-22% increase in productivity according to Gartner. What manager, or CEO wouldn't want to see that minimum of increase from each of their employees?
For all those who are money conscious (and if you are making money...then you are money conscious) telecommuting creates significant cost savings. Telecommuters have less car and gas expenses. They can also save on environmental and personal costs. Less driving also results in less personal risk from accidents, severe weather travel, and car breakdowns. There is also less overhead for business owners and CEO's. You don't need to occupy large amounts of real state, which means no facilities insurance, no facilities maintenance, no on-prim security... think of any cost associated with leasing or owning your own office space and those numbers go away. That's money that can be better spent on advertising, training programs, team outings, bonuses, et al.
If telecommuting seems like a good option for you so far, let’s take a look at how you can maximize your success with it.
Putting your best foot forward will serve you well. So, act professional and always with a passion to over deliver on projects. Do your work. Do it to the best of your ability. Be creative and confident. Prove you are trustworthy and capable of doing great work, even when no one sees you doing it.
Set a schedule
Be sure to share it with your boss, team, and clients so everyone knows your working hours.
Dedicated a place to work
Design your environment in a comfortable, ergonomic, and well-lit way. Also, be sure to have all the equipment and resources needed to do your job effectively. As a result, you’ll set yourself up to deliver your best work.
Voice communication is a powerful way to stay in touch. Often, emotions lose their meaning in email and messaging. Scheduling regular web video/call conferences with your boss and team are a great way to keep yourself in the loop. This will help you to remain involved in the conversations, planning, and actions, especially when you’re not physically there.
Always be ready to answer a call, email, or message in a timely manner during work hours. Doing this is crucial to building trust with your boss, team, and clients.
If things go wrong and pressure builds, take a breath. Decide steps to prove you are a creative, take-action person. Come up with solutions independently.
Set your expectations conservatively. But, be sure to aim high in results.
Set yourself up for success by eliminating those things that can destroy your focus. If you notice something is pulling you away from your work, readjust your home office. This will prevent home life from stealing your attention, therefore increasing your focus. This isn’t just good advice for telecommuting, but also for the workplace as well.
These are some of the basic steps we stress daily at Tapestry to ensure telecommuting success of all our remote contract workers. I hope these were helpful. It is a concept I initiated successfully in my other ventures, including Globalogix and one that we have proudly carried over here that has making Tapestry successful today.
I never like to hear when a company has decided to reduce or eliminate its telecommuting program. It is usually a deeper problem that goes to how companies collaborate internally and what changes have been implemented in management. But instead of being aware of the circumstances around each unique situation, the conclusion that is all-too-often made is that “telecommuting is done!”
So the next time a company decides to end its telecommuting program, let’s pay attention to what lessons can be learned about team management, collaboration, productivity, efficiency, focus, creativity, scalability, communication, and more. There is value in both telecommuting’s success stories and its failures. But given the fact that technology is only becoming more widespread and more mobile, there is one thing that’s for sure: telecommuting is here to stay.
If you would like to know more about how to effectively make better use of telecommuting or want to set up an effective telecommuting strategy , call us today and a member of our Business Development Team can walk you through your options and recommend a solution tailored just for your business needs so you can invest with confidence and make telecommuting successful for you.