I'm lucky to have a job where I have the flexibility to decide how and where I work best. Most days, I like to work in an office. But some days, it's more convenient for me to work from home than it is to commute into the office. Whether I have a doctor's appointment in the morning or I'm simply not interested in wrangling with Boston city traffic, the ability to telecommute whenever I need to is a blessing.
In this post, we'll dig into telecommuting -- what it is, the benefits and challenges, and which types of jobs allow telecommuting.
What Is Telecommuting?
Telecommuting is when an employee who normally works in an office environment works from home, or works from a co-working space or coffee shop or other location near their home, so as to forgo commuting. They use phone and internet access to virtually "commute" to attend meetings and communicate with colleagues.
"Telecommuting" is often used interchangeably with "working from home," because telecommuters often choose to work from home when they decide not to travel into the office. "Telecommuting" and "remote work," however, are not interchangeable terms. Remote workers may choose to work from home, but telecommuting refers to intermittent working from a location other than an office with the help of technology.
In 2018, nearly 4 million Americans reported working from home at least half of the time, and 52% of employees around the world worked from home at least once per week. There are a variety of reasons for the growth of telecommuting in recent years, as well as challenges to consider when deciding to start telecommuting.
Increased Productivity & Better Focus
In both surveys, the primary reasons for working from home respondents cited were increased productivity, better focus, and fewer distractions and interruptions from colleagues. Being able to work from home allows employees to create the working conditions that are most optimal for them when they need quiet or solitude to get work done.
Another reason employees choose to telecommute is to support better work/life balance. Without the need for a lengthy commute, telecommuters have more time in their mornings and evenings to re-dedicate to personal tasks, such as caregiving or exercise. Additionally, the ability to telework makes it easier for employees to run errands or travel to appointments during the day while minimizing commuting time in between, so they can get work and personal tasks done as efficiently as possible.
As the name suggests, telecommuting eliminates the time, stress, and money required to commute to and from the office every day. Depending on where they live, commuting can be a stressful, expensive, or dangerous task for employees day-in and day-out, so the ability to telecommute offers them a helpful break from feeling stressed or rushed.
There are also challenges that can come with telecommuting to consider. These issues can also be a challenge for full-time remote workers, but they're worth repeating for telecommuters.
Even with the best video conferencing software, it can still be a challenge for telecommuters to feel included in virtual meetings or in-person communication taking place in the office. Telecommuters and remote workers should make an effort to over-communicate what they're working on in emails, group chats, and meetings so in-office team members are cognizant of what they're working on.
Similarly, cohesive communication can be a challenge aspect of a flexible or distributed workforce. Even with shared documents and folders and group chat, in-office, one-off communication happens, and telecommuters and remote workers can find themselves out of the loop. It's on the in-office team members to make sure they're keeping telecommuters and remote workers updated on any decisions or debated that happened in-person that pertains to their job.
Technological challenges can arise with some employees working from home and some working in the office. Telecommuters should make sure they have a stable WiFi connection and reliable cellular service, and in-office employees should have inclusive video conferencing software and hardware to make sure teammates working from home can stay involved with what's going on in the office.
Remote and flexible work is on the rise around the world, and jobs in almost every industry category can be part-time or full-time remote. If you're interested in finding a position that allows telecommuting, read our guide to learn how to ask to work remotely if you already have a job you love, or search for jobs with telecommuting options on any job listing website or aggregator if you want to find a new job.
To learn more, read our tips for parents working from home next.