Telecommuting In 2021: The Good, The Bad, And How To Make The Most Of It

By | August 10, 2021

Telecommuting refers to any work done from outside an office. It offers employers and employees several benefits, albeit with some challenges. 

Keeping your employees connected is one of the most important considerations for any business. Good communication can help your staff build stronger relationships with your customers, and make sure your business runs effectively and efficiently.

But, how can they communicate well when they are not together under a single roof, but instead, are working from remote locations outside the office?

According to Statista, 30% of businesses now operate in a fully remote-working model, and over 60% have some employees working from an office and others working remotely.

Until recently, working-from-home has been looked upon as a perk that was offered only by a handful of employers. Today, it has become the only way to safely work for the majority of the world in a COVID -19, and post COVID world. As this new form of working explodes in popularity, how can you be sure that your company is doing it most effectively? 

Luckily, there are plenty of systems available that can make operating a telecommuting model seamless, ensuring that your teams remain connected, motivated, and in tune with each other. All while allowing you to take advantage of access to a global talent pool, and the flexibility and cost-savings on offer.

To explain more, we’re going to explore:

  • What telecommuting means today
  • The advantages for employees and businesses
  • The drawbacks for employees and businesses
  • Ways to make the arrangement work for you
  • Tools that can help

Let’s get started.

What is telecommuting?

Put simply, telecommuting refers to any work done from outside an office. 

It is also referred to by the following terms: 

  • Teleworking, 
  • E-commuting, 
  • Remote Working, 
  • Work From Home, Or 
  • Work From Anywhere

The term ‘telecommute’ originated in the 1970s to refer specifically to the use of a telephone to replace the workforce’s daily commute. It became increasingly popular throughout the 1990s as appreciation grew for the idea that productive work was about the activity rather than any specific worksite. This matched the growing trend for telecommuting jobs in the service sector detached from any manual or physical task: unlike for example machine operators who are simply unable to work remotely.

With the rise of the internet and far more advanced tools — and supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic — the definition of telecommuting has simply come to mean any work performed outside the office. In fact, telecommuting is also expected to continue after the pandemic as well.

Unsurprisingly, it can take any number of forms:

  • Salespeople traveling on the road, arranging in-person meetings, and keeping on track of their emails and voicemails on mobile devices and laptops
  • Call center agents operating remotely in a globalized model thanks to advanced Software as a Service (SaaS) technology
  • ‘Knowledge’ workers with flexible work arrangements, either on a fully remote or blended model

Depending on the specific needs of your business, telecommuting can be the way forward, with employees taking advantage of telecommunications tools such as email, softphones, chat and video apps, or even a full-blown Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) system.

What advantages does telecommuting offer employers and employees?

As with anything, telecommuting has many pros and cons for both businesses and their employees. The remote working revolution has rapidly transformed the commercial landscape, and it’s not set to change back any time soon, with potential employees increasingly requesting a flexible working arrangement.

So what exactly are those benefits?

The advantages of telecommuting

For employers:

  • Flexibility
  • Cost-savings
  • Access to global talent
  • Round-the-clock support

For employees:

  • No stressful commute
  • Better work-life balance
  • Flexible working
  • Global opportunities

Let’s look at those benefits of telecommuting in a bit more detail.

For employers:

 

  • Flexibility and productivity
    A Stanford University study found that remote employees were more productive than those based in the office, and flexible working also allows businesses to manage their resources throughout the day. This is especially useful for call centers or companies operating globally across different time zones.
  • Overhead cost-savings
    Companies taking on a telecommuting model can make significant savings in the amount of office space they require: the trial company used in Stanford University’s study managed to save almost $2,000 per employee on rent.
  • Access to global talent
    A telework model means you can employ telecommuters from all over the world, massively increasing the talent pool you can access. That can bring a wealth of opportunity for growth, and for building an expert
    workforce ideally skilled for your needs.
  • Round-the-clock support and enhanced customer service
    As markets get ever more crowded, customer service becomes a key deciding factor for customers with an incredible choice of vendors. Remote working allows you to offer a better customer experience that is no longer restricted by office hours, thanks to employees in different time zones and communication tools that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

For employees:

 

  • No stressful commute
    Taking away a stressful commute can lead to a happier, healthier career, not to mention the saved expense on transportation costs and the pleasure of avoiding crowded public transport or polluted roadways. 
  • Better work-life balance
    The extra time gained from remote working and the ability to quickly disconnect from work can help staff find a better life balance, with time and space to focus on personal pursuits beyond work. 
  • Flexible working hours
    Where employers allow, flexible working hours can help employees to shape their working life to suit them: starting early for those after a fuller evening, or enjoying a lie-in for the late risers. Keeping comfort levels and job satisfaction rates high increases staff loyalty and also helps lift recruitment and retention rates too.
  • Global opportunities
    Telecommuting opens up a vast labor market with the ability to work for companies all over the world without needing to travel to their physical office. A globalized market can increase competition, but it can also broaden horizons and present a wide range of new opportunities.

The disadvantages that telecommuting poses to employers and employees

Nothing comes without drawbacks, and telecommuting does come with a few cons for both businesses and their employees.

The disadvantages of telecommuting

For employers:

  • Reduced in-person contact
  • Minimal control over employee’s time
  • IT security concerns

For employees:

  • Domestic distractions
  • Isolation and lack of social interaction
  • Eventual burnout

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these disadvantages for employers and employees.

For employers:

  • Reduced contact between managers and coworkers
    Compared with working in an office environment, telecommuting is sure to reduce the amount of contact time staff have with their co-workers and managers. Without the opportunity to chat in the lift or while making a coffee, social time is cut back, and there can be a knock-on effect on the number of ideas, decisions, and solutions landed on in those short unplanned conversations. 
  • Minimal control over employee’s time
    Micro-management of employee’s work is much trickier when telecommuting. It simply isn’t possible to oversee everything your staff is doing, but with the right combination of productivity and communication tools, you can trust that your staff have the drive and intelligence to complete tasks and effectively structure their day. 
  • IT security concerns
    Remote working can make IT security a more complex area of your business, which is why you want to be sure you’re using equipment and online tools with sufficient protections for your staff and company data. Especially for employees who are working from home using home Wi-fi and personal devices, cyber risks are higher than in a controlled office environment.

For employees:

 

  • Domestic distractions
    Without the physical separation of an office, it can be tempting to be drawn away from work by other demands. A 30-second trip to the washing machine can quickly become a larger distraction when working from home, and employees with children may find it difficult to draw strong boundaries between leisure and work time. 
  • Isolation and lack of social interaction
    In normal times, many companies operate extensive calendars of social activities, both planned and spontaneous. When telecommuting, however, these can easily disappear, and employees also lose the emotional health benefits of proximity to colleagues. Missing out on collaborative and networking opportunities can affect team cohesion and productivity, and staff who live alone can find a fully remote home office setup particularly challenging. 
  • Eventual burnout
    Without the benefits of socializing and the creativity those conversations can inspire, telecommuting full-time can lead to burnout for employees, especially when workloads grow and they begin to feel disconnected from the business. It’s essential that managers build in systems and flexible workday structures to avoid this outcome. 

How to address the drawbacks of telecommuting?

Knowledge is power, and thankfully the disadvantages of telecommuting can largely be mitigated by proper planning and strategies. With such widespread adoption of remote working, there are plenty of tools that can help you to create a healthy work environment for your staff that brings in all the benefits that a more flexible model has to offer.

Set clear goals

Good, clear communication is key here, so make sure to set distinct targets on a yearly, quarterly, and monthly basis, so that staff understand your business aims. Breaking these down into personal or team-based targets can also lift the sense of collaboration and collective responsibility for all workers, and make sure that tasks are completed on time even when employees are working on a flexible schedule.

Make your expectations clear

Create an easy-to-understand policy for telecommuting. Do you expect staff to be online by a certain time? What flexibility exactly do you offer for when they can work each day? Do you have a communication system that you expect them to be available on? By putting a clear telecommuting program in place, everyone knows exactly what they should be doing.

Monthly 1-1 meetings

Giving staff space to air concerns and enjoy direct interaction with their managers is essential, so schedule monthly meetings and make sure to ask them about their work-life balance and how telecommuting is working for them. The dedicated face time is bound to give the employees a sense of security and confidence in airing their concerns. If you can, host these meetings face-to-face like Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or a similar video conferencing tool.

Plan virtual gatherings and team-building activities

Planning virtual activities, celebrations for small milestones, or even co-working events for employees working remotely will build loyalty, forge greater bonds within teams, and provide the opportunity for staff to socialize with one another even in the absence of a physical workspace. Find some inspiration of what to plan in our blog post.

Offer mental health support

Being aware of the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can emerge from telecommuting is the first part of the battle. Alongside regular catch-ups, build in a support system for your staff so that when times get tough there’s somewhere they can turn. This will help bring down absenteeism, boost employee morale, and also help them cope up with stress which is often a by-product of remote work. 

Chart a telecommuting policy

A telecommuting policy will ensure that all employees approach telecommuting with best practices that are aligned to the organization’s work culture and cybersecurity requirements. It also ensures that remotely onboarded employees are also able to blend in with the remote workers in their teams in a seamless fashion.

Essentials to make telecommuting work for you

Here’s a rundown of the tools used by companies operating full or part-time telecommuting models:

Instant messaging system

We use instant messaging apps throughout our social lives, and the modern workplace should be no different. These systems allow for faster and less formal collaboration than over email and help staff track projects and task progress. Managers can be readily available for discussions, and employees can converse easily — much as they would in the office.

VPN for safe internet access

As part of your security protocols, using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to mask your employees’ internet traffic can help to protect your business communications.

VoIP phone system

A Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system allows your teams, across sales, marketing, and support functions, to make calls from any computer or mobile device. They also come with a range of enhancements such as shared address books, voicemail-to-email transcription, and virtual phone numbers. Find out more about why VoIP is the way forward.

Video conferencing tool

Zoom rose to such popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic that it even became a verb, and few businesses can get by these days without a video conferencing tool — whether or not they have staff telecommuting. Find a tool that works best for you, and your staff will be able to collaborate in a richer setting than over the phone.

Telecommuting in 2021: An inevitable working model

Telecommuting is here to stay, with employers and employees all over the world experiencing the benefits it can offer in terms of flexibility, productivity, and lower overheads.

Like with any major new trend, it’s not without its drawbacks, but with the right planning and combination of tools, a blended flexible-working model looks set to be the way forward for some time.

Illustrations by Mahalakshmi Anantharaman

About Freshdesk Contact Center

Freshdesk Contact Center (Formerly Freshcaller) is a modern-day cloud phone system that can be used to set up a phone system or fully-fledged call center for customer support and sales or even remote work. With its cloud-based architecture, Freshdesk Contact Center brings together the best of legacy features like IVR and advanced call routing capabilities like Smart Escalations, Customizable Performance Reporting to help you set up state-of-the-art call center operations. Freshdesk Contact Center offers phone numbers in 90+ countries, requires zero phone hardware, and is extremely easy to use.

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