Thinking about telecommuting? Consider these pros and cons.

 

BY ZOE MARSTON AND RHETT BENTLEY

 

Economic growth is on the rise in Chattanooga and the surrounding tri-state region. A growing economy, even with its benefits, can apply pressure to a community at large. Consider, for example, local concerns of overburdened infrastructure in Crystal City, VA and Queens, NY, the new homes to Amazon’s HQ2.

More jobs means more workers, which means more people struggling to maintain safe and efficient transit. In the greater Chattanooga region, that’s single-driver cars, as only .5% of the population uses public transportation. Traffic, the toll on the environment, and the cost of traveling and maintaining a vehicle are all disadvantages of commuting that can be alleviated by the adoption of telecommuting.

The telecommuting population has skyrocketed in the last several years. Research by consulting firm GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics indicates that the population of regular remote work employees in America (not including self-employed), has grown by 140% since 2005. 3.2% of the country’s workforce work remotely at least part-time. Several companies throughout the region already allow telecommuting in one way or another. We reached out to telecommuters in the region with a survey to hear their experiences. You could probably guess that the majority of participants stated that their quality of life has improved since telecommuting, citing more time with family, control over their lives, and flexibility as top reasons.

Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

pro: Flexibility

The most obvious benefit of telecommuting is the flexibility it allows. Nearly 80% of survey participants reported that they feel more flexible because of telecommuting. According to the survey, about 83% of telecommuters said working from home allows them to have more control over their lives. Instead of wasting time stuck in traffic to and from the office, telecommuters can spend that extra time doing what fulfills them personally. In fact, nearly 71% of those surveyed reported that they had more time to spend with their families.

con: loneliness

It’s important to note that without proper communication and structure, telecommuters can experience isolation and feeling forgotten. Over 50% of survey participants reported feeling isolated when telecommuting. Additionally, 25% feel forgotten.

Utilizing technology, like video calls during staff meetings, can ensure that telecommuters feel included. For some employees, it is more productive to spend some days working remotely and other days in the office. Telecommuting works best when employees can give input as to which arrangements are most beneficial to them individually.

While it’s productive most days, the isolation is painful. I like having a mix of interoffice work a few days a month. But being in the office full-time would be very distracting! And I hate driving during rush hour. It’s a tough choice.
— Survey participant

pro: increased productivity

In the absence of workplace distractions (such as chatty coworkers or a noisy break room around the corner), productivity increases. Nearly 92% of survey participants reported feeling productive when working remotely, and nearly 88% said that they feel independent. Keep in mind this isn’t as simple as “working from home.” More than likely, telecommuters are required to have an actual home office set-up, giving them the peace and quiet they need to focus and accomplish tasks.

Telecommuting can be structured as full or part time depending on the company, employee, and position. Only about 38% of our survey participants telecommute full-time; they commute to the office for face time with their coworkers and meetings. Regardless, remote work full or part time can make communication more intentional, and priorities clearer.

con: ability TO unplug

Remote work technology, such as video conferencing, collaborative file sharing, etc., is widespread and more accessible than ever. With portable devices such as laptops, iPads, and cell phones, our apps and cloud software are constantly available. While this is essential for telecommuters, it can also be difficult to “unplug” from the office. One survey participant explains that he feels “on call 24/7.” Time management skills are important to effectively finish tasks during working hours to protect personal time and space.

pro: Environmental impact

In addition to more independence and productivity for employees, telecommuting has a positive impact on the environment. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the telecommuting policies of companies Dell, Aetna, and Xerox saved 95,294 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, which is a significant environmental impact. Research by consulting firm GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics, shows that if telecommuting was widely adopted across the U.S., the greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire workforce of New York State off the road.

Nearly 30% of our survey participants said their commute would be fifty or more miles one way, most along Interstates 24 and 75. By working from home, they reduce highway miles traveled, lessening greenhouse gas emissions.

con: need for company structure

Telecommuting is certainly not a perfect, “silver bullet” solution for every company. For some, it may even be impossible! It assigns a great deal of trust and responsibility to the employee to effectively get things done away from the bustling hub of an office. It is essential for a company to set clear standards and expectations for telecommuting. When done correctly, however, remote work can be an effective tool to maximize time in professional and personal lives.

Telecommuting is fantastic for the individual employee so long as the company for which they work has proper infrastructure and culture to be inclusive of all employees regardless of their physical location.
— Survey participant

pro: EMPLOYER BENEFITS

Employers benefit from allowing employees to telecommute as well. It is important though, that a company develop its own standards when it comes to remote work. Otherwise, it is an asset that could become unclear or abused. With proper protocol, general workplace overhead costs and responsibilities, such as office space square footage and paper costs, can be reduced. GlobalWorkforceAnalytics research indicates that a typical company would save $11,000 per person per year with a telecommuting arrangement.

By implementing alternative workplace solutions, former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam reduced office space by 244,957 square feet, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing his team to work out in the community, among his constituents.

Alternative workplace solutions increase staff retention and make companies more attractive to prospective hires. With appropriate structure, telecommuting can offer valuable flexibility in personal situations, such as a leave of absence to tend to a sick relative. Remote work capability can also ensure smooth productivity during seasonal hold-ups of inclement weather.

SHIFTING COMPANY AND COMMUNITY CULTURE

Telecommuting has become an integral tool for our team at Thrive Regional Partnership. As we work throughout a tri-state footprint that encompasses over 6,600 square miles, sometimes it simply isn’t practical to drive into our office in metro-Chattanooga. Part of our culture has become the responsible adoption of remote work that allows us to be more productive in our private homes or out and about in the region. When in the office, we reconnect more powerfully as a team to ensure that all organizational needs are met.

As more companies adopt innovative telecommuting practices, we may experience a ripple effect not only in the workplace, but in our personal lives as well. Time spent commuting would be re-purposed in other fulfilling ways. By working closer to where we live and play, telecommuting would change the infrastructure of communities - from reducing fuel emissions, to spending more time on family and personal pursuits, to defining a sense of place and civic engagement.

Do you telecommute? Tell us about it!


 
Zoe Marston c Rhett Bentley.JPG
 

Zoe Marston is a Communications Intern for Thrive Regional Partnership. After spending a year abroad studying film at Norwich University of the Arts, she has returned to Chattanooga to tell the stories of her beloved hometown. At Thrive, she hopes to learn everything she can about doing her part to ensure sustainability in the region, and use that knowledge to further enrich the story of the Chattanooga area.