The reality of today’s workplace is that many of us are able to plug in and do our jobs from just about anywhere at any time of day. It’s also a reality that we continue working outside of business hours by responding to e-mail when walking into the grocery store, exercising at the gym, or even after dinner while watching TV with family.

Why then are we still going to a designated office or worksite each weekday to do our jobs? Would it not be in everyone’s best interest if that changed for as many workers as possible?

Telecommuting — moving the work to the worker, instead of the worker to the work — can deliver surprising benefits to the employer and employee who are willing to address misconceptions and realize the gain. Telecommuting can reduce real estate or facility expenses and eliminate costly overhead; improve employee work/life balance, morale and loyalty; expand the recruitment pool to attract virtual talent; and alleviate traffic congestion and reduce local air pollution.

At a time when profit margins are shrinking or upside down, business leaders have been challenged to find new and different ways to cut costs while maintaining workplace morale. We believe that employing just 50 telecommuters can add more than $700,000 to a company’s bottom line each year.

Cost Savings
An effective telecommuting program takes little funding to start, virtually no budget to maintain and increases staff productivity.

Countless studies have validated that telecommuters are more productive than those in the office due to fewer interruptions. Telecommuters at American Express produce 43 percent more business than office-bound employees, according to internal evaluations.

With fewer staff in the office, companies also save thousands of dollars by reducing square footage, unnecessary parking spaces and more. Because about 25 percent of IBM’s workers worldwide telecommute, the company reports $700 million in real estate savings.

In a year when employees saw benefits frozen or reduced due to the recession, telecommuting is a pragmatic strategy to demonstrate your awareness of their financial needs and remain a desirable employer.

Businesses also can expand their recruiting pool. An estimated 70 percent of U.S. workers process information as a primary part of their responsibilities, and knowledge-based jobs normally have some component that can be accomplished outside an office. By accepting a virtual workplace arrangement, businesses can find the best talent from a broader recruitment pool because it’s cheaper to move information than the person.

According to a compensation survey of 1,400 chief financial officers by Robert Half International, 46 percent said telecommuting is second only to salary as the best way to recruit top talent. Another 33 percent said it was the “top draw.”

Telecommuting alleviates traffic congestion during peak weekday travel, thereby opening up roads for the transport of goods without the costly taxpayer expense of building more roads, freeways, highways or debating tollways.

According to the Maricopa Association of Governments, driving 45.5 miles adds about one pound of pollution to the air. With an average commute of 31.6 miles roundtrip, every weekday drive to work generates .69 pounds of Valley pollution, or nearly 180 pounds per employee per year.

Telecommuting is growing
Since 1983, telecommuting has grown more than 1,000 percent. Yet, only 28 percent of companies in Arizona have a formalized telecommuting program. Some reasons for this may be:

  • The desire to manage employees by sight.
  • The perception of costly equipment.
  • The need for impromptu meetings.
  • A fear of lost productivity.
  • A concern for equity among staff.
  • A hesitancy to provide this option to some, but not all employees.

All are valid concerns that keep organizations from testing the telecommuting waters. For guided development, take advantage of online information from the federal government or tap into other successful local organizations. Benchmarking other thriving organizations in similar industries is helpful, but look for those that are expanding participation — a clear indication of program success.

In this economic climate, we must employ all options to prevent further loss of revenue and stay competitive (defined here as expanding our recruiting pool, maintaining morale and releasing ourselves from excess overhead). If we can admittedly accomplish so much outside of the office, what else could be accomplished by not going there at all?

Where to Go
: Online resources
Telework Exchange
U.S. General Services Administration
Valley Metro

Arizona Business Magazine

January 2010