Why working from home is on the rise

As I write this, I’m wearing pyjama pants, a hoodie and no make-up. There’s a pack of cold and flu tablets and a box of tissues next to me, and I’m sneezing and sniffling so frequently I’d surely drive even the most placid of coworkers to madness.

Luckily for my coworkers, I’m not in the office today. This week, I’m working from home, on account of the aforementioned hideous flu.

This is an entirely new experience for me, but one I’m grateful to have, as it means I can still get things done, without passing on my germs or making myself any sicker.

Plus, I get to stay in my pjs.

For a lot of us, it doesn’t take much more than a laptop and a reliable internet connection to work from home these days – which is why more and more of us are doing it. According to recent census data out of the US, the number of Americans telecommuting increased by 80% between 2005 and 2012.

But is telecommuting truly beneficial to everyone involved, or just a cheeky way for your employees to sit at home and watch Netflix all day?

Today, I want to look at some of the reasons why telecommuting is on the rise, so you can decide for yourself whether it’s right for your own business.

Happier, more productive employees

A 2013 Stanford University study into the effects of telecommuting found that, contrary to the concerns of many employers, most employees are far more productive when working from home. This study found that call centre employees working from home showed a 13% performance increase – 9% of which was attributed to working more minutes per shift (due to employees taking fewer breaks and sick days), and 4% of which was attributed to employees making more calls per minute, due to their work environment being more quiet and convenient. The workers in this study also reported improved work satisfaction, which led to their attrition rate being halved.

Healthier employees

A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion earlier this year looked at the effects telecommuting can have on employee health. The study found that employees who don’t telecommute at all were at greater risk of a number of health issues, including obesity, substance abuse and physical inactivity. The study also found that employees who telecommuted for up to 8 hours a month were far less likely to suffer from depression than those who didn’t telecommute – an important statistic for any workplace since, as I’ve discussed previously, depression is a prevalent and costly issue in many businesses.

Reduce your environmental impact

Telecommuting doesn’t just benefit the workplaces and employees in question; it can also be greatly beneficial for our environment. Global Workforce Analytics estimates that 50% of the American workforce currently work in jobs that can support telecommuting. If those people were to work from home just half the time, there’d be significant reduction in both greenhouse gases and oil consumption – to the tune of 54 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, and over 600 million barrels of oil.

Businesses save money

Let’s be honest – more businesses decisions are informed by the bottom line than they are by the health and happiness of employees. Thankfully, when it comes to telecommuting, there’s as much economic justification for employers as there is ethical justification.

According to research by the Telework Research Network, businesses that allow 100 employees to work from home half of the time can save more than $1m annually. A significant part of those savings (around half) would come from increased productivity, which I mentioned earlier. Around a third would come from savings in things like utilities, real estate and maintenance, and a little over 10% would come from less sick time and unscheduled absences. The remainder comes from lower employee turnover.

… as do employees

Telecommuting also saves employees significant amounts of money (TRN puts the figure between $2000 and $6800) on things like transport costs (including fuel, parking and public transport), food, clothing and other work-associated costs.

So what about my own experience?

For me, my week of working from home was a thoroughly positive one. It meant I didn’t have to bring my germs into the office and pass my illness onto anyone else. It also meant that I was able to fully let the illness run its course, while still being productive.

When I first suggested working from home, I was concerned about how my productivity would be affected, as surely there’d be more distractions (i.e. Netflix) at home. However, I found that as long as I had somewhere quiet and comfortable to work, it was remarkably easy to avoid being distracted.

Trust is a large component of a successful telecommuting strategy, and that comes down to making sure your team is made up of people you know don’t need to be micromanaged. If you have employees you know you can trust, and run the kind of business that doesn’t necessarily require your employees to be on-site all the time, then telecommuting could very well be something that works well for you and your team.

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