Virtual Office Featured Article

Successful Telecommuting Policies Hinge on Effective Communication

October 09, 2015
By Tara Seals - Contributing Writer

In today’s mobile, digital world, the office has become borderless. And as such, more enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are embracing telecommuting for their employees, to boost satisfaction and productivity. But workers must be integrated from a communications and cultural perspective into the organization in order to fully reap the benefits.

Researchers from the University of South Florida, Baruch College, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that 88 percent of companies now offer some form of telecommuting, and that 3.3 million Americans have so far taken them up on it.

And no wonder, considering that the study also shows that telecommuting translates into lower work stress and less exhaustion. That’s because the commute is eliminated and workers have more flexibility as to how and where they work. Essentially, not being chained to a desk in a cubicle means lower burnout and stress rates for most.

Also, manager-reported metrics or independently measurable data found that workers were more productive when telecommuting is part of the mix. So much for oft-cited stereotype of the “worker” that trades the keyboard for an Xbox controller at home, but still clocks in.

Interestingly, part-time telecommuters have a higher overall job satisfaction than their in-the-office cohorts (translating, presumably, to better employee retention for businesses). But this finding is dependent on just how much telecommuting a worker is doing. Those who worked 15.1 hours or less at home had the highest increases in job satisfaction. But, those working from home four or five days per week had lower job satisfaction due to social isolation.

Social isolation and a lack of contact with fellow workers is in fact the No. 1 drawback of telecommuting, according to the report. Employees that don’t interact with teams and coworkers regularly have lower levels of information exchange, which has a chilling effect on innovation. And that can lead to underperformance over time.

To reap all of the benefits of telecommuting, employers should have plans and practices in place to integrate telecommuters into the workflow as seamlessly as if they were in the office. They should be able to participate in meetings and discussions with colleagues, and be reachable via the office phone number. This is where VoIP, cloud-based unified communications and desktop-as-a-service come in handy.

Phone (News - Alert).com for instance lets workers use pretty much any device—wireless phones, IP phones, softphones, POTS phones—to communicate via voice, text, mail and more. It gives users the ability to transfer calls between physical locations, route calls to the correct employee regardless of telecommuting status, handle calls differently depending on the source, the time of day or day of week, and supports quick-dial to telecommute extensions.

“Controversy over telecommuting is not surprising, in that the practice represents a fundamental change in how organizations have historically done business and has implications for a wide range of issues, such as work-family balance, greenhouse emissions and the expansion of work opportunities,” the report noted.

But as long as trade-offs are acknowledged and considered, the benefits can be significant.

“The multivariate impact of telecommuting is complex, with the potential for simultaneous benefits and drawbacks,” the researchers concluded. “Organizations and policymakers must weigh the desire of individuals to work more flexibly while also keeping in mind the benefits of face-to-face communication for knowledge sharing and innovation.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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