Telecommuting and teleworking have had a quiet start in New Zealand but elsewhere in the world are seeing a rapid increase in popularity, with estimates of around 40% of the American workforce working remotely at least part of the time.
So – what is telecommuting and how does it differ from teleworking?
Both terms refer to employees who work remotely rather than in a specific office at a specific desk each day. In strict terms telecommuters are considered employees who work from home – thus commuting only by phone or internet. Teleworkers, or mobile workers, are employees equipped with the technology that allows them to work anywhere; they may spend some time in a central office, some at home, and some on the road, working from hubs or cafes.
Employers, in particular new employers, can sometimes have a knee jerk "how will I know they're working?" reaction to the idea of teleworkers but the system can provide a lot of advantages for both workers and businesses alike.
For businesses – especially small businesses and start ups – the most obvious advantage is the financial saving. If team members don’t require a dedicated desk, parking area, lunch break, or even office, the money that would traditionally have been used to fund these things can be used for technology, training, marketing, and business development.
There is even some evidence from the United States showing companies that embrace teleworking see significant improvement in employee morale, reduced absenteeism and staff turnover and can save around $20,000 per employee in reduced overheads.
Employees often see a positive impact on their financial situation with not just lowered commuting costs but also lowered work-related costs (clothing, food, etc). The ability to work to a routine and time that suits their individual needs and styles often increases and improves their engagement and as a result their productivity.
Many employers are nervous about not having their employees where they can be seen but modern technology including VoIP, VPNs and cloud computing is making it easier to ensure work is being carried out.
The ultimate test of course is in the results and as people begin to embrace the concept of working being something they do, rather than a place they go, businesses are adapting their management styles and business cultures to reflect this. Working remotely is most likely to be successful in businesses that are able to adopt a results oriented management framework, rather than one that is focussed on tasks. In other words, if it doesn’t matter how the job gets done, as long as it is done properly and on time, telecommuting/teleworking could be a good option for your business.
Having a team work remotely won’t work for every business but don’t discount it without serious thought first. It may offer a feasible and successful way for your start up to really get the traction it needs while getting the most value for money.