Work from home: Why you may – or may not – want your job's workplace outside the office

USA Today Technology 1 month ago

With traffic on the rise in major cities and climate change top-of-mind, you might want to work more from home.

“Telecommuting” (or “teleworking”) has been around since the 1980s, but it has taken off in recent years – thanks to technological tools like home PCs and reliable Internet connectivity, which can keep employees connected via robust video and data networks.

In fact, roughly 40% of the U.S. workforce already works remotely in some fashion, according to research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. Telecommuting runs the range from working one or two days at home per week to a full-time 40-hour telecommuting arrangement.

“We’re seeing a surge in the movement right now because devices and connections are more affordable than ever before – and thanks to smartphones and tablets, they have even been combined into a single, portable device that gives us all of the functionality that we used to have at a corporate desktop,” says Laurel Farrer, founder of the Remote Work Association. “So now, our work is something we do (not somewhere we go) and our office is anywhere we already happen to be.”

Given that it’s #WorkFromAnywhereWeek (Oct. 7-11) – an initiative promoting flexibility in the workplace, and supported by tech companies like Logitech, Microsoft, Lenovo, Zoom, BlueJeans, and others – let’s examine the pros and cons of working from home: for the employee, the employer, and the environment.

The benefits of working at home

Employees: Staying at home paves the way for a better work-life balance. Many take their kids to and from school, spend less on professional attire and lunches (and eat healthier), and aren’t distracted with colleagues asking for something (or being dragged into meetings they’re not needed in). A Stanford University report, and a joint study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Northwestern University, both found those who work from home are less stressed and more productive than those who work a 9-to-5 job out of the home.

Businesses: You can hire the best person for the job – even if they live across the country or around the world (barring any time zone challenges). Another advantage for employers: candidates who want to work from home may accept a lower salary than those who must commute to work. This isn’t always the case, but you can compare salaries for the same positions -- in-house versus at-home -- at FlexJobs.com. As a cost-saving consideration, you don’t have to pay for office space (and other related expenses) for an at-home worker. You might be able to close the deal over a video call instead of incurring the costs to fly cross-country. Those who work from home are often happier and more productive, which is good for company morale and efficiency.

The environment: Telecommuting can not only save time and money but also has an eco-advantage, too: fewer cars on the road reduces the amount of emissions that contribute to pollution and global warming. The more companies allow for telecommuting, the lighter the roads might be for those who must drive to the office – or take public transit, taxis or ride-share vehicles. In other words, everyone wins.

Telecommuting's potential downsides

Employees: In the abovementioned survey, telecommuters said interpersonal relationships were missed while working at home. This includes having coffee or lunches with colleagues, smoke breaks, water-cooler gossip, collaborating on team projects, and perhaps after-work drinks. While it may sound appealing to work from home, many have trouble staying motivated without a supervisor or boss looking over their shoulder. Should you work on that sales report or take a break to watch "Ellen" or flick through Instagram? Juggling kids and remaining focused could also be a challenge.

Businesses: From a creativity standpoint, telecommuting could result in a loss of on-site brainstorming. And allowing some employees to work from home (and not others) could lead to lower office morale. There's also an increased security and privacy risk – not only could it be easier for a disgruntled at-home worker to wreak havoc, perhaps by stealing data, but accidental breaches can happen, too. Telecommuting might also complicate insurance policies and worker’s compensation.

Given the advantages and challenges, a business interested in telecommuting must first determine whether it’s practicable for employees to work from home – obviously, some positions aren’t conducive for this option. And companies should assess whether each individual employee is self-motivated enough to be a good telecommuting worker. To that point, it might be a good idea for supervisors to draft specific expectation guidelines and have at-home workers sign the agreement before a move to telecommuting. Perhaps the supervisor and worker agree to a short trial to see if the arrangement works.

Finally, remember that it doesn’t have to be “all or none,” as some businesses restrict at-home working to a day or two a week. That's a way for the employer and the employee to get the best of both worlds.


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