Teleworking and the Future of the workplace

I recently stumbled across this article about how allowing employees to telework could save billions!  It focused more on the fact of the savings for the employee, but I would argue there are also many savings to be had for the employer.  So what are some of the benefits of allowing teleworking?

Well, first we’ll look it from the employee’s point of view.  With gas around $4/gallon now, many people are spending quite a bit of money just getting to a from work.  According to the article, the average American spends around $2,000 per year on gas commuting to work (not real sure what per gallon price was used in this calculation though, maybe it’s higher now).  So if we say the average American works 240 days/year (took out about two weeks vacation and 2 weeks worth of holidays/other time off), that means the average American is spending a little over $8/day to get to work.  So if that’s true and the average American were allowed to telework just one day a week, that individual would save about $400/year.  I think that’s something most employees would appreciate.  Especially if you bump that to two days a week and now they are saving $800/year.

Now, from the employers point of view.  I’ve seen several studies (didn’t have time to dig up links, sorry) that suggested that the average individual tends to do more work when working from home than when at the office.  I would have to say my experience would support this as well.  You may think there are a lot of distractions at an employee’s home, but you have to remember there are an awful lot of distractions at work as well.  Probably the biggest distraction is just all the other people there that can walk up and ask questions or just hold general conversation.  You are putting a person in a social environment and thus they are going to act socially, catching up the latest gossip and how people are doing.  Even if the individual isn’t a very social person, he or she will likely participate in this to an extent mainly because it is the polite thing to do.  When an employee is working from home, you won’t have those distractions so they can typically spend longer blocks of time doing dedicated, heads down work.

Now lets get into the big savings.  If you can get good at this, and begin scheduling teleworking, you can eliminate the need for office space.  If you can do alternating schedules, two people can share the same office.  You can even do it so you don’t have dedicated offices, people simply use an available space when they are in the office.  One of the best bosses I ever had strongly held the belief that the work force would head this way in the future anyway…and I think I have to agree with him.  Individuals would not get provided with offices, or even PCs and things like that.  There would be office space that could be used if needed, but no one would have dedicated offices and people would work from home most of the time.

One concern I know most people may have is performance.  “How do I know they are actually working?”  The best answer I’ve seen for this is (can’t remember where this came from), if you have to ask this question, you don’t really know they are working now, you simply know they are present.  Just because someone is at the office doesn’t mean they are working either.  So if you don’t currently have any other way of knowing if someone is actually spending their time working other than knowing they are in the office, you have more things you need to work on than this issue.  This is not saying you need to micro-manage and tell them everything they need to do or anything like that.  But you should know what they are doing more than just, “yep, he’s here.”

Another similar concern people may have is, “well now that this person is working from home, how do I know they aren’t working on the side either?”  Very similar to the above answer, you need to have a way to know what someone is doing rather than just knowing they are there.  Now, if you have that, and the person is able to do everything that you want them to do to an acceptable level of quality, and they still feel they have time to work for someone else…what is the problem with that?  As long as they aren’t doing anything that would cause a conflict of interest, as long as you are getting the work you need out of them, does it really matter if someone else is as well?  The well respected manager I mentioned above saw this coming too.  He predicted that the majority of very talented individuals would end up becoming more like contractors working for many different companies because of exactly this.  They are working from home more, getting more work done and looking for more to do.

So, I would encourage everyone to consider a teleworking policy and start reaping the benefits.  I know we will!

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