Telecommuting, is it win-win?


Widely appreciated by Canadian workers, telecommuting is making its mark at the core of business operations as new technologies are gaining ground. But are companies only gaining from it or are there also risks of loss? Focus on the main advantages and disadvantages to opt for in remote working.


While Canadian society and the world of work continue along their paths of ceaseless change, and while companies are now hard at work to bring into their ranks and retain talents and expertise, telecommuting, enabled by the development of new technologies, seems to be a powerful lever for action and widely praised. “In a context where employees are seeking favourable conditions for reconciling the demands of their professional and personal lives, the telecommuting formula appears to be an interesting option”, says Guylaine Deschênes, HR consultant with GD Resources. But although it never ceases to attract both employers and employees, does telecommuting deserve all the praise it gets? A review of the main strong points and weak points of this popular arrangement is in order.


Ensuring employee satisfaction


Release from the constraints of commuting time, getting free from certain costs, meals and work clothes …   Telecommuting is immediately synonymous, for the employee, with saving time and money. “The quality of life increases, the employee can devote themselves to beneficial activities leading to a better balanced life, such as exercise, time with children or volunteering”, says Guylaine Deschênes. It seems to be a big step to go from there to considering telecommuting as the instrument for greater employee satisfaction. Indeed, as summarised by Eric Brunelle, professor at the Faculty of Management of HEC Montreal: “when management practices are adequate, workers perceive telecommuting as a good means to obtain a better balance between private and professional life, reduce the level of stress, acquire greater flexibility and autonomy in their work and have a greater satisfaction with their jobs.” These are immediate good points, able to boost morale for the troops and work with talent retention in view.


A gain in productivity for the company


Far from the busy services of the company and the eyes of supervisors, the remote worker’s employer may be fearful of loss of concentration and reduced work capacity. This is an apprehension that seems to be misplaced. On the contrary, within a familiar and comforting environment, freed from all the distractions and disturbances that sometimes come from the close proximity of colleagues, the teleworkers’s performance seems to increase. “When properly managed, remote work programs generate an increase in employee productivity”, Eric Brunelle asserts. It’s up to the teleworker to perform the tasks entrusted to him before taking advantage of the free time at his disposal. It is a direct motivation which has which appears to bear its fruits.


Another good point: a straightforward reduction in absenteeism. Indeed, “the worker can easily leave for a few hours for appointments during the work day rather than miss a full day”, explains Guylaine Deschênes. And when the weather gets involved and bad weather portends general lateness and mass absences from the office, telecommuting can be the ally of choice, guaranteeing the company intact mobilization by its teleworkers.


Significant savings


Savings in space, fewer offices, lowered energy bills…  The potential savings directly allowed by the use of telecommuting is consistent. “For example, telecommuting allows two people to share the same office or parking spot, if it’s made sure that their visits do not coincide”, Guylaine Deschênes gives as an example. And far from being anecdotal, these savings can allow the company to set aside these amounts for other expenses, even other jobs. Indeed, as suggested by Eric Brunelle: “telecommuting programs can offer new opportunities for recruitment.” A simple equation: just see the savings achieved through adopting the telecommuting arrangement on the record of a new employee, who is also a remote worker.


The threat of isolation


Despite this rosy picture, there are some precautions to be aware of for the company when it comes to setting up telecommuting. On the first flip side: the distance, which can prove to be problematic and a synonym of confinement. “Telecommuting creates distances and reduces the depth of communications. This has the effect of greatly complicating relations between the company and its employees, increasing the sense of isolation by its employees and their feeling of insecurity with respect to their careers”, warns Eric Brunelle. Far from the company’s headquarters, decision-making bodies and the company’s particular atmosphere, the feeling of exclusion indeed soon interferes with the idealistic affair between the company and telecommuting. The main risk? That the employee will feel ostracised by the company employing him and so lose his commitment.


A sensitive bond of trust


Another difficulty – the potential loss of control that the remote work relationship can possibly introduce between the company and its employee. “Hard to control the actual number of hours spent working”, notes Guylaine Deschênes as an example. “Managers must therefore be willing to trust their employees to manage their schedule and their professional integrity.” This is a trust that is not always easy to establish when the virtual relationship, through emails and telephone conversations, outweighs the traditional physical relationship.


New management challenges to be taken into consideration


Telecommuting must therefore be accompanied by new management methods, adapted to the specifics created by the new distance between the employee and his superiors. As Eric Brunelle emphasizes: “with the nature of relationships being significantly transformed, it is becoming imperative for executives to adapt and adopt new practices to be effective. It is in some way the cornerstone that allows companies to take advantage from this method of work organization. New questions arise: what should the executive do to respond appropriately? What is the ideal profile of the executive who is playing his role in a telecommuting context?” These are key questions which companies have to resolve, so that the advantages of telecommuting outweigh the disadvantages.


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