Is Telecommuting the Future of the Workplace?

Once seen as a rare perk, telecommuting has become the preferred means of working for millions of Americans. Companies in many industry sectors are now letting their employees enjoy a degree of flexibility that allows for communication from remote locations, thanks to advances in technology that no longer require colleagues to work in the same office or even the same state.

This means that the workplace itself is changing, so much so that job seekers should be aware that telecommuting is no longer a bonus, but an efficient way of demonstrating the same level of commitment to a prospective employer. According to figures provided by the Families and Work Institute, 63 percent of U.S. companies now allow workers to telecommute—a figure that has reportedly doubled since 2005. Another source, Quartz, quoted at least 13.4 million people in the U.S. who either work from home or remotely at least one day a week—which equates to about 9.5 percent of the workforce.

Virtual workers
For most of these telecommuting-friendly employers, the prevalence of communicative technology means that they have been able to save on not only office space, but also integrate highly qualified professionals from other regions into their daily working practices. At the same time, there has been a demonstrated rise in the amount of companies that want employees to use their own devices—be it laptop, smartphone or tablet—when working for the company, which again reduces the need for an employee to actually maintain a physical office presence.

Offering employees a flexible work schedule has become commonplace for many organizations, with information technology, healthcare and marketing all identified by the news source as industry sectors that encourage the practice. However, while human resources teams have found telecommuting to be extremely beneficial in terms of managing work/life expectations and employee satisfaction, being able to work remotely also brings a set of challenges for the employee.

Maintaining discipline
Understanding that telecommuting means that employees are still responsible for putting in a full shift can be a difficult concept to grasp at first. In fact, many have stated that the temptation to run errands and take care of personal responsibilities are some of the top reasons they have struggled to adapt. Though working from home or online can be distracting, it's important to make sure you don't take time out of your workday to watch TV or check personal email. When telecommuting, one must ensure they are adopting a strategy that allows for uninterrupted workflow equal to that within an office setting.

One perk of working from home is you have the ability to work outside of the standard 9-5 schedule, but regardless of your hours, it's important to focus on the tasks at hand. Some tips for telecommuting that can help you get into the proper mindset are to schedule whatever work hours are best for you, set up a home office separate from your recreation areas, and dress professionally. Not giving your work the attention it needs due to your familiar surroundings can result in consequences—something employees at Yahoo and Best Buy learned last year when their CEOs discontinued their telecommuting programs.

Despite these possible setbacks, there is little doubt that telecommuting is here to stay. Employees who understand how to leverage the system to showcase their abilities, and employers who are looking to expand their reach to professionals in other regions, should find it to be a mutually beneficial solution.