The Ups and Downs of Telecommuting for Businesses and Workers

John Krautzel
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Telecommuting is a new normal for American businesses thanks to technology that allows employees to work from home. Instead of reporting to the office at 8 a.m. every morning, an increasing number of workers log in from a home office loaded with an Internet connection, desktop computer, tablet, smartphone and laser printer. Telecommuting sounds like a great idea for both companies and staffers, but there are some drawbacks.

Advantages for Workers

Employees tout tons of benefits to telecommuting, as working from home has several advantages. Once someone has a home office set up, it becomes relatively simple to remotely log in to the software, tools and accounts the worker needs to recreate a cubicle at the downtown high rise.

Telecommuting removes the need to drive to work every morning. Instead of getting up at 6 a.m. to fight traffic for an hour, workers can get more sleep, take several minutes to prepare for the work day and walk 10 feet down the hall to arrive at the office. A lack of a commute to work saves money on gas and car repairs.

Surveys show employees are happier when they work from home. This is partly because telecommuting helps workers achieve a better work-life balance. A flexible work arrangement allows staffers to manage their daily lives with greater efficiency.

Employees who telecommute enjoy higher productivity and actually work more versus those who come to the office five days per week. A home office means the employee has less contact with other people at the office, which could lead to fewer instances of illness because of sick co-workers who show up to work. All of these good things may outweigh any negative sides for employees.

Disadvantages for Workers

Staffers who work from home may feel isolated and disconnected from other workers. This could lead to a lack of engagement on the part of telecommuters, even if productivity increases. Less face-to-face collaboration may dampen creativity and innovation that come from spontaneous conversations among employees.

Telecommuters could face more distractions at home, including spouses, children and pets. Workers need to create a space at home that gets rid of any distractions that interfere with the work day.

Telecommuting staffers may feel as if they need to work more hours or atypical hours. Instead of working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., an employee may work at odd times simply because she always has access to her home office.

Employees might feel left out of social and networking opportunities at the office. Getting to know people in the workplace fosters trust among co-workers, and telecommuting can dampen that atmosphere. Despite the drawbacks for telecommuters, workplace flexibility may help a company's bottom line in several ways.

Employer Advantages

Businesses save money on office space, equipment and office supplies when they employ telecommuters. Any reduced expenses allow more money for hiring employees, marketing, and research and development. Fewer expenses also means more revenue and greater profits. When staffers use less sick leave or vacation time, this saves money on benefits for workers.

A firm saves money on travel and relocation costs for employees by letting staffers work from home. Instead of paying for flights to conferences and networking events, businesses use videoconferencing and meeting room technology to have face-to-face contact with workers from all over the world.

Firms are able to find talent from greater geographic areas thanks to telecommuting. This allows companies to mine a greater labor pool to find the best possible workers. Interviews for these position can occur through remote technology instead of in person.

Talent retention also comes into play when it comes to productive employees. Many fantastic workers simply want a better way to juggle personal and professional lives, and employers that offer a telecommuting option have an advantage over ones that do not have this benefit. However, it's not all rosy for firms that want to give staffers this choice.

Employer Disadvantages

A lack of supervision of telecommuters may create wasted time and over-reported work hours. Companies can overcome this with an effective time-tracking tool that monitors a worker's time on a computer.

Cybersecurity is a huge issue for firms that have sensitive data. IT departments must ensure that staffers who work from home have the proper security protocols in place so data leaks do not occur. These procedures take some extra time, money and effort.

Equipment expenses may rise for employers that provide a telecommuting option. What happens to the equipment if this staffer quits? Luckily, these equipment expenses occur only once. Companies can create a benefit for employees who use their own equipment at home to help mitigate these costs.

Firms may need to spend extra money on team-building exercises so no one feels left out of the collaborative process. Computer programs and technology can alleviate this, but poor communication is one of the major pitfalls of telecommuting. Team leaders and executives must foster ways for telecommuters to become full-fledged members of the office as if they walk in the front door every Monday through Friday.

Telecommuting is not going away any time soon, and this way of working can benefit workers and companies if it is done correctly. Employers can conduct feasibility studies to determine if telecommuting works for them as part of an overall company culture.

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  • Martha Bern
    Martha Bern

    I agree with this article!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. @William totally agree. I love working from home, too. In my area, most of the well paying positions are in the downtown sector and the commute is, at a minimum, an hour each way. Then there's the cost of parking, too. I find, for myself, that I am more productive working from home because I can control the distractions. In the office it's hard to shut out the distractions from things going on around you, not to mention being interrupted by coworkers and other events that happen during the course of a work day. @Catherine it is possible that an individual could be happier working remotely but I caution here - not everyone is cut out to work from home. I have talked to people who begged to work from home but, once they started, begged to go back to the office. There is no one there to motivate you and many people need that motivation. Plus, as @Jane mentioned, some companies require you to download software on to your computer that allows them to track you. But, if you worked in the office, you wouldn't be required to have that software. So there are positives and negatives to telecommuting just as there are for working in the office.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I love telecommuting and I, personally, don't see any disadvantages. There are tons of money-saving things that happen beyond the obvious. I save gas on my car, but also on car insurance because I drive fewer miles every day. I save money on food because I eat what's in the house instead of grabbing a quick bite for lunch when I don't have time as I run out the door. The lost time in the commute I make up for by clocking in earlier or staying later if I need to, which means I stand to make more money with more hours. It can be hectic, but it's totally worth it.


    I recently read somewhere that the most important factor in how satisfied people are with their jobs is the length of their commute to work. Shorter commute means more job satisfaction. Do you think that telecommuting is a viable option for people who are very dissatisfied with their jobs because of a hour or longer commute? What is the longest commute anyone here has had in the past?

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I can see how cybersecurity is a big concern. Just as much as I would be concerned about possible data leaks, like you mentioned, I'd also be concerned about the company abusing access to my computer with timekeeping software or something else that got installed at the same time. How do employees make sure their employer only sees what they need to see to make sure work is being done appropriately without violating the employee's privacy? Thanks.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I agree that there are just as many distractions in the home as there are in the office. I work from home and I’m constantly interrupted by my toddler or friends and family on the phone. At the end of the day, I do get all the work done, but it takes a lot of effort.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Erica it can be tough sometimes to keep those lines of communication open when you work from home. What I do is have a meeting with my boss at least several times a month. Should I have issues in between I typically send an email and he responds the same day. I think that the communication decision should be made at the beginning so that the expectations are set. @Jacob I couldn't agree more. No office drama for me and I get my work done and then some. I have found, over the years, that working from home suits me so much more than working in an office. At home I can control my environment and keep noise and other things from distracting me. In the office, what do I do if my cube mate likes to talk on the phone - loudly or coworkers always want to stop by for a chat? For me, that's a terrible distraction and causes it to take longer for me to get an assignment completed.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Is fragmenting the workforce really a disadvantage for employers? It seems as though having a portion of staff working from home would limit social downtime at the office as well as work towards eliminating office politics that can be so time consuming and frustrating. If there are no office dynamics, there really is no need for the political maneuvering and intrigue.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    You mention poor communication as one of the pitfalls of telecommuting - what are some ways employers can overcome this? And what should employers do to communicate effectively with telecommuting employees who live in another state or in another country?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shannon working from home can be tough. You have to be disciplined enough to stay away from your social media sites as well as your cell phone. If you require a cell phone for work, then make that your work line only and get a personal cell phone. This way you can turn your personal cell off while you are working so that you aren't distracted. @Lydia totally agree. Isn't that the craziest thing you have ever heard - where you have to constantly prove that you are working and not sitting around playing games? Why do companies react like this to telecommuters? Bosses still have that "butt in the seat" mentality. They think that if they can't physically see you, then you must be drinking coffee and playing games all day. The truth of the matter is that most of work even harder when working from home - harder and longer hours. If the work wasn't getting done, we wouldn't last long whether working from an office or from home. That's the bottom line. Staying in touch is great, too. Several years ago I worked for a company where, when not traveling and working from the client's site, I would work from my home office or from the satellite office. There were several of us who worked out of the same area and several times a month we would get together for coffee and a long chat. Otherwise our communication would be phone calls or Skype.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I worked the same position in an office setting and then became a telecommuter. As the article states, I definitely worked a lot harder from my home office. The challenge my team experienced was having to constantly prove that we were productive. This pressure wasn't there in office space. It seemed that just presence in the building was enough to prove that we were working. On the other hand, I never felt lonely. My team had regular coffee and doughnut meetups and we had a lot of online communication throughout the day.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I have been a telecommuter for years and I love the flexibility. However, I completely agree that it can get lonely. My biggest challenge is eliminating distractions. How would you recommend telecommuters overcome this? I have heard of apps that can pause your social media accounts or your cell phone when you are working. Do you have any recommendations?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. @Kellen an optimized home office environment would depend upon the job you perform. Yes you should try to have a dedicated space for a home office if you really are going to be a telecommuter. A nice quiet space away from distractions is best but it's not always feasible for everyone. If you can't find a dedicated space in your home, carve out an office the best that you can. I know, in my case, to keep out noise and distractions, I will use ear plugs or head phones. @Abbey I know that I tend to work longer hours on most days because my commute is only about 30 seconds. I think it's true that most telecommuters work longer hours only because they don't have the commute; they don't have to "dress for work" which means that they are more comfortable; and they don't have all of the distractions of a regular office environment. @Erin when I first started working from home I felt truly isolated but I have learned to communicate through different means with my team and now I don't feel the isolation as much. I have been working from home for the past 10 years and still love it.

  • Erin Jean
    Erin Jean

    I disagree that isolation need necessarily cause a lack of engagement. Personally, I'm more of an introvert. I feel drained by sharing a workspace with people and I am energized by solitude. I am most comfortable and tuned-in when I'm alone.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I love the idea of telecommuting! I have to agree with the article, that those working from a home office actually tend to work more than those who travel to the office each day. Having everything you need right there at your fingertips means that you can work anytime, not just during normal office hours. The fact that you don't have a commute time and don't have co-workers to distract you throughout the day also contribute. For the most part, telecommuters are more productive, and the advantages of telecommuting really do outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I'm not sure that employees feeling left out of the workplace is such a disadvantage. A lot of telecommuters work best in their own environment and have many social networks and encounters in which they involve themselves. It might not be the same as standing around the water cooler face to face, but I think that there are some very good substitutions for those who work from home to still be as social.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    What can telecommuters do to create an "optimized" home office environment? Is it enough to just have a little desk in the dining room? Or is a dedicated room for the task the best way to go? I know that for tax purposes a dedicated room will get you a write-off. What are the other advantages? Just privacy?

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