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Opinion: Telecommuting: The Secret to Employer Happiness

By Jim Lanzalotto
August 6, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

When it comes to making employers happy, happy employees are right up there with high-paying customers and a successful business.

And what employer wouldn’t be happy to be able to make employees more content without resorting to raises and bonuses? One way to increase employee happiness without increasing budgets is to implement a strong, flexible telecommuting program. Done right, telecommuting can improve employees’ work/life balance while boosting their productivity and efficiency. Telecommuting has become such a key factor in employee happiness that those companies that don’t offer it risk losing out on top talent.

Telecommuting Defined

Most people agree that telecommuters are people who work out of the office, using equipment such as mobile phones, PDAs and laptops to communicate with co-workers and clients. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they work from home. Telecommuters also work in field offices, at work sites, in coffee shops around the corner, on picnic benches outside the office, in company lunchrooms — anywhere away from their desks.

The telecommuting concept took hold when Boas Shamir and Ilan Salomon published "Work-at-Home and the Quality of Working Life" in The Academy of Management Review in 1985. It opened people’s eyes to telecommuting, sparking a new business trend. Shortly afterwards, in 1986, Gil E. Gordon and Marcia M. Kelly wrote Telecommuting: How to Make It Work for You and Your Company. By then, 17.3 million Americans were already participating in telecommuting programs.

Beyond those early adopters, take-up was slow. Many bosses felt that if their underlings weren’t in the office, they weren’t working. But most employers eventually got over those perceptions and started offering telecommuting. Three things were crucial in showing employers that their perceptions were false: They noticed that telecommuters were getting work done, they discovered that telecommuters were happier, and they realized that telecommuting offered a better balance between work and life.

Today, telecommuting is becoming standard procedure. In fact, as many as 27 million people in the United States work from home. Nearly 40% of companies have remote work policies, according to a 2007 study conducted by Yoh. Moreover, the study found that 31% of companies believe it’s very likely that telecommuting will increase over the next two years.

What’s crucial to understand is the purpose of telecommuting. Telecommuting is not a substitute for day care. It’s not free vacation time. Employers offer it to make employees’ lives easier and keep them productive when they can’t come to the office. The goal is create happy employees through a better working environment. It’s also important to remember that telecommuting policies and preferences may vary from company to company. Some employers may allow telecommuting for the entire workweek, while others may prefer that telecommuting employees do so only once or twice a week.

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