The term telecommuting was coined in 1972 by Jack Nilles, who began working on a communications system for NASA from home, and called what he was doing “telecommuting.” He explained it as “moving the work to the workers instead of the workers to the work.”
Today’s technology makes working remotely even easier. Estimates are that four per cent of workers in the United States telecommute, while 40 per cent have jobs that could be performed from home.
Determining the number of people who telecommute is difficult because the parameters are hard to define. Some work full-time from home, others only one or two days a week. Still others go to the office during the day, and work at home in the evenings and on weekends (something Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer assured her staff would still be able to do when she cancelled the company telecommuting program).
With the popularity of smartphones, most employees are accessible during nearly all of their waking hours. Work doesn’t end when you leave the office at five. Many employees answer emails after dinner and send a note to their boss before their morning commute.
It’s only fair that employers compensate them with some flexibility during formal work hours.
Telecommuting can also save companies considerable costs. Businesses no longer need to pay for the office space to accommodate all their employees. Much of the growth of telecommuting has been in small- and medium-sized businesses because the savings allow them to be competitive.
In turn, employees don’t have to pay for gas or transit to get to the office every day, and can save on work clothes and lunches out.
Working remotely and with more flexibility also tends to boost employee morale, and can help parents balance family demands.
So with all of these benefits,
why aren’t more people telecommuting?
As Nilles, the father of telecommuting, wrote in 1998, the main reason is resistance to change. “As everyone ‘knows,’ the information workers all have to report to the information factory in order to do their work. That’s the way we’ve always done it. It is very difficult to get managers of organizations to think about working in other ways. As a consequence, the freeways are clogged every day around the world, mostly with people driving (alone) between their homes and the information factories.”
For telecommuting to work, there has to be a relationship of trust between the manager and the employee. Employers need to trust that their staff isn’t slacking off just because there’s no one keeping an eye on them – and workers need to be honest and accountable with their time.
While there has been a growth in the popularity of telecommuting since its first days, recently there’s been a shift in the opposite direction with Yahoo! and Best Buy cancelling their telecommuting programs.
When Mayer first spoke about the change, she said, “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”
by Ada Slivinski