As technology evolves, many of the barriers that have traditionally limited telecommuting continue to disappear. The tedious standard of spending 40 hours a week sitting in a cubicle is fading as employers and workers both embrace the benefits associated with telecommuting.

When you pay workers for their time, they’re willing to give you as much of it as you are willing to pay for. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re maximizing productivity during that time. If you told workers that they can have the rest of the week off as soon as they complete their assigned tasks and meet their deadlines for the week, you would find that five days of effort can probably be compressed to two and have a very empty office after Tuesday while everyone is out golfing.

Workers know, though, that they have to be present in the office from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday regardless of how quickly or effectively work gets completed, so instead the work gets dragged out. Finishing quickly is likely to result in additional assignments to fill the time, so there is no incentive to maximize performance. Instead, the work week is filled with unproductive time–chatting with co-workers, reading personal e-mail, surfing the Web, smoking breaks, long lunches, etc.

A research study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and published by the National Communication Association found, “Employees who telecommute the majority of the work week are more satisfied with their jobs compared to those working mostly in the office because working remotely alleviates more stress than it creates.”

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Kathryn Fonner, lead researcher for the study, explains, “Results of the study pointed to multiple reasons why telework is linked to high job satisfaction, namely that employees working remotely are, on average, shielded from much of the distracting and stressful aspects of the workplace, such as office politics, interruptions, constant meetings and information overload.”

Think about it for a minute. Even if the amount of non-productive time is the same to the employer, working from home enables workers to put the “wasted” time to better use. Instead of just chatting or surfing, the worker can take care of household chores and tasks that have to be done but normally fill up “personal” time–laundry, dishes, prepping dinner. That also means that when the work day is done, the worker is free to actually use the personal time for more enriching activities than simple mundane chores.

There are a variety of other benefits for both the worker and the employer. No commuting enables the worker to avoid the stress and dangers of rush hour traffic and reclaim many hours of time that weren’t even being compensated anyway. Not sharing a work environment reduces the chances that a cold or flu virus can spread throughout a department and cripple productivity, and not having to get up and drive to work enables even marginally sick workers to continue being productive from the comfort of home.

Businesses can also reduce costs associated with the office itself–the size of the office, the furniture, the electricity used, the cost of heating and cooling the office space, etc.

Organizations should take a serious look at the advantages and benefits of allowing workers to telecommute where possible, and invest in remote access, mobile platforms, and VPN technologies that enable users to work from virtually anywhere.

Small and medium businesses in particular should embrace cloud-based productivity and collaboration platforms such as Google Docs or Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (soon to be rebranded as Office 365). Services like Box.net, Dropbox, and Syncplicity also provide a means of sharing information between remote co-workers, and even online tools like Skype and Facebook enable communication and collabouration. Bottom line–the tools are out there and they are free, or at least very affordable.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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  • I have worked in many office settings including cubicle farms and now that I have a telecommuting position with a business consulting company in Toronto, my work and life satisfaction has greatly increased. I get to see my wife and 2 year old son more often, get more time for exercise and overall have a better attitude towards the work I do… I think more companies should offer this, it is also better for the environment (one less car on the road) – thanks great article!

    • Hi Kyle,
      As somebody who work currently works in a cubicle, I’d like to congratulate you on bagging the perfect working arrangement that benefits you, your work and your family. Yes, I do hope more workplaces would offer telecommuting opportunities.

  • Crystal Costello

    I have experienced both and telecommuting is a fantastic way of keeping a balance between family life and work. You can work “late” when your family is otherwise occupied and you can schedule your life easier too. Oh and nothing beats working in your PJ’s on a cold winter day!!

  • There are numerous benefits to telecommuting as many have written above. It can be an extremely beneficial work environment to both the employee and the employer. I’d like to suggest 2 things leaders and companies need to be aware of when considering a Telecommuter work arrangement to ensure its success:

    1) With Technology advancements communication has become alot easier however sometimes telecommuters fall into the trap of not communicating due to the “out of sight, out of mind” principle. Communication expectations should be laid out clearly and regularly to ensure success.

    2) Telecommuting for all its advantages is not for every personality type. If someone is extremely affiliative in nature, being placed with 4 walls a computer and a dog can be a death sentence to their productivity. Some employees give energy to their workplace and get it from their workplace and an “isolated” workspace can be detrimental to their results.

    Recognize these precautions as a leader and you can reap all the benefits of this style of workplace without falling into some of the traps!

  • A really good telecommuting site offers a good variety of real jobs and positions. A friend of our family from Wisconsin works doing the accounting books for a traveling salesman, she is 60 years old and does this job from home because she is disabled. Companies should consider hiring more work from home employees. Take for example my sister’s case, who worked as a secretary (now days I think they call them Administrative Assistants) who was recently laid off from a Catholic charter elementary school due to downsizing. She e-mailed me about looking into a telecommuting job online at a website called http://www.JobBoard4Home-Workers.info she says she is doing this because jobs around Mankato and Eagle Lake,Minnesota are scarce. I do think she will be successful in landing a job since she is a very talented person. At any rate, I think telecommuting jobs are our best bet when it comes to unemployment and a trend that is here to stay.