In the face of rising energy prices, globalisation, and competitive differentiation, there has been a quiet revolution in the way organisations and employees are revisiting the notion of teleworking. Recent advances in voice and data are redefining the very nature and form of work.
Traditional work-day activities are no longer tied to a specific time or location. In this new scenario, employees can now work collaboratively and access their business network across remote locations. Reducing overheads, improving customer satisfaction, increasing productivity and staff retention are the core business benefits that stem from flexible teleworking.
However, companies are also starting to recognise that their environmental responsibilities can also be addressed, with teleworking helping to decrease ever-burgeoning traffic congestion, air quality problems and cut carbon emissions. Telecommuting or telework is an alternative work arrangement where employees enjoy flexibility in working location and hours.
Within the flexible telework idea, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links. Many employees work from home, while others, occasionally also referred to as ‘web commuters’, use mobile phone technology to work from cafes or many other locations.
The idea of avoiding the daily commute to work is not a new one. But the rising trend in the past few years is due to a combination of factors, including the proliferation of high speed broadband and wireless access, which has made it both less expensive and more productive to work remotely, and the willingness of more employers to embrace flexibility and work-life balance.
The recent increase in teleworking also has a lot to do with new voice and data applications and devices such as smartphones, tablets, instant messaging, and web-based audio and video conferencing. This is coupled with a shift in demographics to workers who are all comfortable using this type of technology and are looking for flexible work, and have an increasing concern for the environment.
Despite the rise in telecommuters, widespread acceptance of telework as a common business practice had been hindered by concerns regarding employee productivity. One of the main barriers to telework has been management trust issues of employees working from home. But a common misperception is that telework is a full-time arrangement. A typical telework schedule tends to be one to two days a week.
Managers increasingly understand that every individual has a different style of working, so by allowing their staff to work how they feel best able to achieve results will only benefit their wellbeing and most importantly increase their productivity and ultimately customer service.
It comes down to a matter of trust. If you trust and respect your employees to get the job done, they will trust and respect you in return and do the best they possibly can, regardless of whether they are in the office or not. Teleworking provides companies with a back-up strategy to continue business operations in the event of a disaster or bad weather. Given that telework employees are geographically distributed, that distribution provides a business with a degree of resiliency.
Teleworking enables continuity of operations during poor weather, such as snow, or traffic congestion which prevents employees from being able to reach the office. It can also come in to play as a back-up strategy in rare disaster or emergency health situations like a hurricane or a flu pandemic. And increasing fuel costs combined with worsening traffic has begun to prompt employees to look to their companies to provide relief and in some cases think about changing jobs to improve their commutes.
Teleworking directly impacts job satisfaction in terms of less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings. With high speed broadband currently accounting for 90 per cent of all household internet connections, and a wealth of telecommunications technologies, such as IP telephony now an affordable business standard for seamless connectivity to the office, the technology to enable home working is now more sophisticated than ever.
Through the use of virtual teams using instant messaging to communicate, having the ability to set up video and conference calls and share documents from the network, there is no need for employers to panic that people working from home or outside the office cannot contribute to the business as a fully functioning member of the team.
Flexible working practices are becoming an integral part of a successful business strategy and can be a critical tool not only in improving the bottom line but also as a starting point to decrease corporate carbon footprint.