Telecommuting: Weighing the Pros and Cons


Telecommuting's advantages sound like the perfect weapon for CIOs fighting to retain top IT staffers. But those plusses clearly aren't enough to spark a telecommuting revolution. IT executives cite improved recruitment, productivity boosts, decreased turnover and lower costs as the top advantages of telecommuting, according to a new report by IT research and advisory firm Computer Economics.

On top of those gems, 72 percent of respondents said telecommuting can reduce employee turnover.

Sounds like the panacea for many of the CIO's biggest woes, right? Then why is telecommuting still at a "moderate level of practice," in the firm's judgment?

Let's look at some of the numbers. First, it's necessary to note that more than half of the firms surveyed claim to be either partially (41 percent) or fully (12 percent) practicing telecommuting. The latter is more telling. "This suggests that many adopters are allowing telecommuting mostly on an ad-hoc basis and may have no formal policies in place," Computer Economics posits in the report.

It's equally important to note why that is. When asked about the disadvantages telecommuting brings, IT execs pointed to (by varying degrees) interference with communications, security issues, lowered morale in the office and reductions in quality and productivity. (A separate study found that IT departments don't exactly trust telecommuters.)

So it appears telecommuting is facing the big ol' battle of risk versus reward. And that's a shame.

So what'll it be, IT pros: will telecommuting help your company, or hurt it? What's your company's current stance on telecommuting?


15 Comments for "Telecommuting: Weighing the Pros and Cons"

  • William B. Richards III January 28, 2009 9:52 am

    I have been involved with telecommuting strategy and support at my company for many, many years and am entering my third year as a full time virtual. Telecommuting accomplishes two important goals for my company: a) Real estate cost reduction. Our analysis shows that not providing a cube to an associate saves >$9k/year. When you factor in expense reimbursement for phone and Internet connection it settles down to just over $8K. Still a great deal for the company (we are moving to VOIP so phone reimbursement goes away). b) Associate engagement. This is a no-cost way to really boost engagement scores - for those who can adapt to full-time telecommuting. My company has a formal telecommuting policy and application process with very reasonable reimbursement limits. I was key in creating these policies and can tell you it took a lot of work to get there. I agree with the earlier postings. This is not for everyone and is not an easy endeavor; significant discipline is required. A separate office space is a must. My office is at one end of the house in a converted bedroom, nice and quiet. You must train yourself to think: if I could not do it in the office I cannot do it in a home office. Otherwise the distractions -- such as an inviting hot tub on the deck -- can lead you astray. As to productivity, I can get done in 40 hours what used to take me >60 in the office at HQ. Much of what I do requires quality, quiet intense focus time and this fits perfectly with a home office. My experience shows a three-month transition period before you are 100% productive; then it just goes up after that. The one thing I did not expect was how much I would miss the office social interaction. At first that hurt a lot. Another thing to consider is that becoming a full-time virtual pretty much kills any chance for career advancement. In my case and at this late stage of my career it was worth it. I have a lot of experience in both the strategic and operational areas of telecommuting. Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance - bill.richards@hewitt.com

  • Bill Bell September 22, 2008 9:51 am

    I have been telecommuting since 2001, and full time since 2003. The experience has been a complete success for both work accomplishment (corporate HQ in metro DC area), and blend of active lifestyle which I enjoy at the beach in NC. A key success I found was having an "office" separated from my main house. When I married in 2005, I had a separate building built on my property to house my office. Its more like a "shed," but has all the amenities of a regular office (telephone/cable lines, electric, HVAC, etc), including bamboo floors and windows looking out at pine forest! It's a completely separate area from the home, and allows me distinct space for work, free from distractions that may be found in the home, especially when sharing the house with another. At about $7,000 to build, it was a great investment to fully take advantage of teleworking. Given current fuel prices and the commute many face with the daily traffic grind to and from the regular office, the "shed" likely paid for itself in less than a year! Plus, what better commute than to leave the door, walk down the steps, turn left, and follow the wooden walkway to the "office!"

  • Nick DePierro September 19, 2008 3:19 pm

    I have been working from home since 1992. That was before working from home was popular. I have saved money on gas and have significantly reduced emissions. I am a highly rated employee and am rated higher then most "in the office" workers. I am available 24/7 for any issues that arise, yet, I have a complete and perfect balance between my work and personal life. I have seen my kids grow up and am intimately involved in their lives. I never call in sick. I only work 40 hours per week and get 40 hours worth of work done in those 40 hours, not 10 or 20 like the average office worker who "works" 50-60 hours a week. I can multitask on all meetings, if necessary, since most meetings are on the phone. It has not harmed my career and has not made me feel isolated. Be that as it may, working from home is NOT for everyone and not for every job. I am an analyst/developer with clients in various locations and countries and my job has allowed me to work from home full or part time over the past 16 years. The company needs to set policies on working from home, including that the employee must have a dedicated work space. Without that, I would not have been able to get rid of the home distractions. It should be transparent to the customer and the peers that the employee is working from home or the office. There should be no dogs barking in the background, or birds, screaming kids, traffic noises, airplane noises or music. And, there should be a dedicated phone line, after all, you don't want your teenage daughter answering the phone when the CIO calls! I believe (and hope) working from home is the wave of the future, not just because of gas prices, but due to the high benefits for both the employer and the employee. The employer benefits from higher productivity, higher availability, less to no sick time and higher moral. Higher moral leads to less turn over, which costs the company less. I also believe that all individuals that are against working from home are living in the past. These people have a control problem as they want to control other people. With today's technology, workers can work anywhere, anytime. We are truly a mobile society and we should take advantage of that. Companies that are against telecommuting but have offshore employees are schizophrenic. After all, an offshore employee is a telecommuting. They are performing the job thousands of miles from the peers and supervisors. Whether they are in an office or at home, is irrelevant. Companies need to get their act together and have a standard policy. They need to look at offshore employees as telecommuters. If they want to offshore, they should allow telecommuters.

  • Brian Watson September 19, 2008 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Sounds like a lot of you are in the same position re: telecommuting. Now let me ask this: is your company taking note of the potential/actual savings from you and others being able to telecommute? If so, how are they responding? If not, what does that mean for your ability to keep doing it?

  • William Gilchrist September 19, 2008 1:26 pm

    I worked in the office for 5 years and had a local apartment where I lived 5 days a week. I made the trip home every week for the weekend. In that arrangement since all my home interests were a long way off, I tended to work very late every day...etc. A year ago, I was offered the opportunity to work from home. I gave up my local appartment and I think that I work later now than I did when I was at the office and I work more. In the office, as long as I had a telephone and an Internet connection, I was good to go. I really could have worked at the bus station as long as I had those things. I did not see many people during the day while at the office but was in my own world. Now that I work at home, it is very much the same. However, I do miss the interaction sometimes. I can still interact over instant messaging or the phone but it's not always the same but it is very managable but it does take some time to get used to. Certainly a person with a bad work ethic would not be a candidate for working at home. Thanks!

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