telecommuting parent working on couch

Telecommuting Prep and Tips

Ever since the onset of COVID-19, when countless businesses closed or reduced their operations, the questions have swirled: when is the right time to reopen, and what does reopening look like?

Although the answers to those questions are going to vary wildly depending on situation and circumstance, telecommuting has emerged as both a solution and a challenge. In this article, we’ll detail the benefits and drawbacks of telecommuting, tips for employees that are new to this practice, and tips for employers.

Telecommuting 101

Telecommuting works by having employees work remotely, keeping in touch with coworkers and employers via telephone, online chat, video, and email. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are forced to consider telecommuting as an option for employees in order to maintain social distancing guidelines, reduce the spread of the disease, and limit unnecessary deaths.

Between 2005 and 2017, the number of people telecommuting for their jobs grew by 159% according to FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics. That translates to 4.7 million Americans telecommuting pre-pandemic.

While the transition this year has been forced, as restrictions loosen up, many employers are extending telecommuting throughout the rest of the year or allowing employees to continue telecommuting. With today’s technology, working from home has become easier than ever, and, when done correctly, creates more productive employees and increases loyalty.

Benefits

Telecommuting has a wide range of benefits for both employees and employers. First, it provides workers greater control over their work hours and location. This translates to improved work/life balance. Telecommuters save time as well as money typically spent on fuel, car repairs, and parking. This increased flexibility can help improve overall both morale and mental health. These improvements are part of a long-term strategy employers can use to increase productivity and loyalty.

As a result of these benefits, employers may see a change in their employees. Allowing workers to telecommute often can make them more productive. Companies that offer telecommuting will save money in office expenses. This ranges from things like printing and office supplies to costs related to office space.

Managing Yourself and Your Communication

For employees and employers, transitioning between working primarily at the office and telecommuting at home is the most difficult at the outset. Employees that are not extremely self-motivated can find themselves easily distracted.

Another issue, present now more than ever, is that working at home can feel isolating. Not being around coworkers can take a toll. By using video chats, instant messaging, and frequent phone calls, employers can curb feelings of isolation.

One of the biggest challenges can be maintaining the momentum among telecommuters. Here are some tips to help.

Your top priority should be clear communication. At the risk of having an unproductive team, make sure that important information is regularly communicated. Providing context for why projects need to be completed is equally important.

Including basic information such as the history of the project, who is involved, project timelines and what each employee is responsible for is a must. The bottom line is that to function effectively, everyone needs to be on the same page about what needs to be done, when, and by whom.

Maintaining frequent, open contact with employees is important— but don’t micromanage. Touching base too often can be a drain on confidence and morale. One of the biggest drawbacks for telecommuters is that they might feel like they’re detached from their teammates and duties. Avoid this by connecting with your team frequently via instant message, email, or phone call.

The best way to strengthen a team is to work to build it. This is especially important in our present situation, and also increasingly difficult. Employers need to get creative about recognizing employees for their hard work or a job well done. For big projects with multiple deadlines, staffing firm Robert Half recommends sending gift cards and encouraging employees to take an extra coffee or lunch break as a thank you. It’s the little gestures that can make the biggest difference during a tough time.

Emphasizing work-life balance

It is easy for certain professionals to become workaholics when they fully embrace the lifestyle of a telecommuter. To help prevent this from happening to employees, encourage the practice of good time management.

Employers can set an example by setting and communicating their own start and stop times, and encouraging employees to do the same. More importantly, refrain from contacting employees outside of office hours, and make sure to respect their schedules.

With the blurring of the lines between home and work spaces – which is a new experience for many employees – this new schedule will take some getting used to. But with proper planning, telecommuting can be beneficial to both employees and employers.

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