According to the latest available statistics, the number of employees who telecommute increased by 6.5% in 2014 alone. More employers, and employees, are taking advantage of the many benefits that telecommuting offers. For employees, it’s avoiding the stress of daily traffic, the cost of gasoline, and the valuable time spent commuting.
Potential benefits to employers include savings on office space in addition to less time supervising, which means more time to develop strategies to increase sales. Studies show that employee job satisfaction results in greater productivity. Nothing makes employees happier than feeling trusted and respected by their employers. The opportunity to telecommute can be viewed as the ultimate compliment in recognition of an employee’s level of personal responsibility and self-discipline. While job satisfaction does increase productivity, there is another reason that telecommuting employees are often more productive than their commuting counterparts. That reason is the human circadian rhythm.
According to the Harvard Business Review, human beings are not necessarily at their most productive from the hours of nine to five. In fact, it often takes hours, and several cups of coffee, to reach peak productivity. Once the highest level of alert energy has been reached, it doesn’t last long. Many people report hitting a low point around 3 in the afternoon, then having another peak at around 6 in the evening. A considerable amount of research confirms this pattern, although it does vary. For example, those who reach peak productivity early in the morning are referred to as “larks”, while those who reach in later in the evening are referred to as “owls”. These rhythms are referred to as chronotypes.
We all have an internal clock, and the 9 to 5 work schedule doesn’t accommodate those clocks very well. However, telecommuters are able to work when they are most productive, and rest when it is most necessary to re-charge their creative batteries. An eight hour day for a lark might consist of four hours of work in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and two in the evening. For an owl, that might be reversed. However, the quality of work generated by people working during peak energy times is likely to be of superior quality than that of someone at the office during a 3:00 p.m. slump.
Of course, just as employees must be trusted not to take advantage of the lack of direct supervision, employers must be trusted not to expect their telecommuting employees to work longer hours because they may be different hours. Research also suggests that people working the wrong schedule for their particular chronotype increases the potential for unethical behavior. That’s why some employers have begun scheduling tasks according to their employees’ chronotypes and have found it beneficial for the entire organization.
In addition to responsibility and self-discipline, telecommuting employees should possess above-average computer skills. At home with the company laptop, there is no IT department to call if there is a lost file or technical issue. That’s why many companies will pay for employees to get certification in a course such as Microsoft MCTS. Adequate technological training makes employees more valuable as well as more desirable as candidates for telecommuting. Other desired qualifications for telecommuting include good decision-making skills coupled with the willingness to ask for supervisory guidance if necessary.
To avoid problems caused by a lack of communication, it’s important that regular check-ins are established via e-mail, text messages or Skype to discuss the progress of assigned tasks. Both parties, as well as the office team, should be kept abreast of any changes. Increasing use of the cloud has made it possible to share information securely from anywhere, in many forms and with multiple devices. Technology has also increased telecommuters’ ability to organize their work and prioritize projects even while working on multiple deadlines. The ability to utilize technology fully to develop project time-lines with reminders for important tasks and their due dates is an important skill set for developing the level of trust required for telecommuting.
For more and more people, telecommuting is proving to be a win-win proposition. In addition to increased productivity and job satisfaction, telecommuters also get ill less often. Enjoying less stress-related illness is a definite win.