Telecommuting – The Way of the Future?

Telecommuting is an emerging trend, with 24% of organizations already offering mobile workstyles and 83% planning to by 2014 as predicted by the Mobile Workstyles Survey. By 2016, according to the same survey, 63 million workers, 43% of the workforce, will telecommute.

The Mobile Workstyles Survey indicates that this rapid growth is driven primarily by employees requesting the option to telecommute from, and many employers agree. This is a logical decision considering the many benefits that come from telecommuting for both parties.

These benefits supported by the survey include:

Flexibility: 73% of organizations indicate an increasingly agile and flexible workforce as a benefit from telecommuting. Likewise, 65% of employees feel that telecommuting allows them a more flexible work schedule and 55% agree that working outside of an office allows them to maintain an improved work-life balance and experience less stress.

Reduced Expenses: Telecommuting offers cost saving opportunities for employers and employees. 48% of employers indicate reduced real estate expenses as a result of fewer desks and less office space required. Organizations who have already implemented telecommuting have 15% fewer desks than those who have not. By working from home, 61% of employees save both money and time that would otherwise be spent on their commute.

Productivity: In the time that employees would traditionally spend commuting to and from work, they can be working from home. The 62% of employees who specify a boost in personal productivity as a primary benefit are likely to experience an increase in morale and reduced stress as a result of their efficiency. More efficient employees are an obvious benefit for employers as well.

Increased Retention and Talent: 47% of organizations find that the benefits granted by telecommuting often attract top talent, and 44% agree that it facilitates an increase in employee retention. A talented workforce and reduced employee turnover is likely to have long-term positive impacts for these organizations.

Although telecommuting is a beneficial alternative to working in an office, there are downsides and potential legal issues that employers should be prepared to address by assessing their workforce and establishing clear policies and procedures.

These downsides stated in a Labor Letter from JD Supra Law News include:

Wages: Although employees are not working in an office, employers must comply with state and federal wage-hour laws. If an employee is working over 40 hours per week, answering calls after hours or over the weekend, they must be compensated time-and-a-half in respect of the U.S. Fair Labor Act. It is important for organizations to indicate what work is permissible when, and to set a clear procedure for recording the number of hours worked each day

Safety: Even when employees are telecommuting, employers are obligated to abide by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. To avoid worksite injuries, require telecommuters to have a designated workspace which can be examined and susceptible to random safety inspections. As always, it is important to enforce safe work practices.

The frequent use of mobile phones and devices poses risks associated with texting and driving. Implement policies which prohibit texting while driving to avoid accidents involving an employee who was engaged in a work-related conversation behind the wheel.

Security: While quick access to work files from home and mobile devices can increase productivity, information might be less secure. Employees should be required to follow security procedures to ensure that private company information is kept confidential.

Discrimination: Employers are required to protect telecommuters from discrimination and harassment just as they would for employees working in the office.

Working from home does provide the opportunity to accommodate for employees with disabilities, but eligibility for employees to telecommute should be clearly stated and policies must be implemented in a nondiscriminatory way to avoid lawsuits.

Loss of Oversight: Telecommuting is not suited for all organizations. There must be a significant amount of trust amongst employees to assure that they will be successful in an unsupervised environment. There is a risk of disengagement and poor communication between telecommuting employees and their employers, so it is important to schedule face to face meetings as needed.

Would you allow your employees to telecommute?

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