Saying Yes to Telecommuting

There are not many things I miss from the days before I started working at home.

I don’t miss overbearing and clueless bosses. I don’t miss rushed commutes to the office, spilling coffee on the perfectly-creased khakis I just bought, or fighting rush-hour traffic on the way home. I don’t miss infuriating office politics.

True, the further telecommuting spreads, the closer we come to the demise of an institution that has been sacred since Man first discovered fire — and then knocked off for the afternoon. That institution: Happy Hour with the work crowd.

On top of that, there is one other thing I miss about working at an office. Slacking off. Kicking back on the company dime.

But assuming a way can be found to replicate those means of releasing workday tension, telecommuting really might be the good thing it’s been cracked up to be.

Productivity vs. Cost

The truth is, you work harder when you work from home. A recent report by AT&T said that its telecommuting project increased productivity by 45 percent, which went quite nicely with the 50 percent savings generated from not having to dole out office space. The company claimed it saved two dollars for every dollar spent on the project.

The report said teleworkers get one hour per day more productivity than their office-bound colleagues, which amounts to 250 hours a year.

“That’s quite a head start,” the report said, “almost like the office crowd not showing up for work ’til the middle of February.”

Another report, this one by British Telecom and Gartner Group, said that the average telecommuter works 11 percent more hours than his office buddy. That report also said that telecommuting reduced costs for office space and other overhead, saving employers an amount equal to 17 percent of annual salary costs.

Still, some ask the question — is this improved efficiency for better or worse?

Web Workers Wobble

I doubt there is anyone left who would argue the fact the Internet is not changing the way the human workplace is evolving. Something had to happen because a lot of people were not happy.

“Progress has brought us longer hours, less security, more stress, shorter vacations and unhappy lives on the job,” said another report, by the Internet Time Group. “Recognition that something is not right will fuel a new way of thinking about how organizations should work.”

That new way is telecommuting. There are 37 million households in the U.S. alone which have someone working out of the home, according to Link Resources. Of those, the 8.4 million telecommuters represent the fastest growing segment.

“People will work where it’s convenient to work,” said the Internet Time report. “Offices will be used for meeting with customers and colleagues. Most ‘office work’ will be done from people’s homes or nearby ‘cube farms.’ People will be more authentic and honest. Valid knowledge crowds out dysfunctional BS.”

Midnight Faxes

There are endless benefits to telecommuting, not only to telecommuters, but to society overall. Telecommuting means we’ll be less dependent on fuel because we’ll be leaving those cars in the driveway. It means we’ll have less pollution and less traffic, less road rage and stronger family ties.

The disadvantages, some studies show, are that people are actually working too hard from home. There is no clearly defined end of the workday — no whistle blowing or horn sounding — and so teleworkers sometimes find themselves working 10 to 12 hours a day, and odd hours at that. One manager complained workers were sending faxes in the middle of the night.

The bottom line, however, is that I can’t work up much sympathy for people who don’t have the imagination to know when work stops and play should begin.

Sense of Belonging

A more serious problem is the fact that telecommuters don’t have that happy hour. With humans living increasingly isolated lives, leaving the workplace behind means leaving behind one more community that has the potential to give many people a sense of belonging — even if it’s getting together with co-workers and talking about what a moron the boss is.

The worst-case scenario has telecommuting as one more alienating factor turning us into a nation of socially maladjusted loners.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. While providing a boost to business in general, telecommuting can also give us more leisure time, if handled correctly, as well as the opportunity to join more relevant, real-life communities, not virtual chat rooms or newsgroups.

It just takes a little imagination and effort.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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