Is your employer thinking about giving you the option to spend more time working from home? Are you moving your business operations to a home office full-time? Many people are finding that stay-at-home employment is an option that is personally satisfying, financially intelligent, and wholly fulfilling.
About 30 million people in the United States have the option to work from home at least one day per week. This figure has continued growing for more than a decade, and telecommuting doesn’t seem to have anything in its way to slow this trend down.
Technology advances are certainly fueling this trend, but there are several benefits to consider with the idea of working from home. Many of the disadvantages tend to be socially related, which means a few lifestyle changes can make the transition to be an almost painless experience.
If you’re thinking about working from home or your employer wants you to start doing so, then these are the telecommuting advantages and disadvantages you will want to review.
List of the Advantages of Telecommuting
1. You spend less time commuting since your office is at home.
The average one-way commute in the United States is 26 minutes. That means you’re spending 4.3 hours each week going to and from the office each week, assuming that you work full-time in a position that requires a 5-day commitment. That means you spend over 200 hours each year using public transportation or being behind the wheel of your vehicle. That’s almost nine entire days per year of productivity that you can save by telecommuting.
That’s not to say that your commute disappears entirely. You still need to walk from your bedroom to your home office in the morning. The good news is that the coffee is a lot cheaper from your kitchen than at Starbucks on the way to the office.
2. It can be easier to focus on your work since the workplace distractions go away.
If you have that “one” co-worker who always likes to talk, then working from home is going to feel like a vacation. You get to stay focused on your work because there aren’t any other people around to distract you. Unless you need to keep your phone on for professional reasons, you can turn off your devices to get your work finished promptly.
About 3 out of every 4 telecommuters say that they are more productive at home when compared to being at a traditional office. You can even program your Do Not Disturb function to let specific calls through as needed.
3. There are no transportation costs to pay with telecommuting.
When the Federal Highway Administration estimated the cost to operate a compact car for commuting in 2001, the office estimated that it would cost about $800 per month to pay for your commuting responsibilities. That figure can cut a significant portion out of your paycheck immediately. That’s why some drivers put off their scheduled maintenance and drive on fumes until their next check becomes available.
Cost estimates are about 20% higher in 2020 than they were in 2001. That means your commuting expense could be as high as $1,000 per month. If you telecommute, then the cost you have to get to work is the price of a comfortable pair of slippers.
4. It can offer workers with a healthy balance of personal and professional pursuits.
Telecommuters have more flexibility with their schedule than workers in a standard office environment. Most employers don’t care when you put in the time as long as you’re active while logged into the system. That means you can fit your work responsibilities around your personal life. It is much easier to drive your kids to school, manage medical appointments, or have a quick lunch with a friend in this situation compared to the traditional career arrangements.
5. Employers can reduce office size requirements and overhead costs.
When employers can make telecommuting a priority, then it can save them some money. A 2014 study regarding this advantage found that overhead costs could go down by as much as 60% in some situations. It also costs up to $30,000 to replace a valued employee, so offering the option to work from home can produce savings in that area. That means the profit margin from each project can go up, creating a higher level of employment security for everyone involved in the organization.
6. Employee production often rises when working from a home office.
Connect Solutions surveyed remote workers regarding their productivity habits in 2019. Their findings from part-time and full-time workers discovered that 77% of telecommuters were more productive when they could be active in a home office instead of going to work every day. 30% of these employees said that they could accomplish more in less time because of their work-from-home arrangements.
Telecommuting workers are less likely to take time off from work when compared to those who commute daily. This advantage even applies to employees who are sick. The average remote worker puts in up to 7 hours of additional work per week when compared to on-site employees.
7. Workers can operate at their own pace within reason.
Telecommuting removes the problem of a micromanaging supervisor. People who operate from a home office still get held accountable for their actions, but in a manner that doesn’t have the same levels of pressure. When someone isn’t constantly looking over your shoulder, it is much easier to stay productive because there isn’t as much stress to manage. That’s one of several reasons why Global Workplace Analytics found that 95% of employers say that telecommuting increases their retention rates. One-third of workers say that they’d be willing to take a 10% cut in their salary to have the option to work from a home office.
8. Several collaboration tools are available for telecommuters.
One of the most significant challenges for the remote worker is to prove that they are putting in the hours they’ve agreed to work. You’ll find that several collaboration tools make it easier to see what you’re doing in real-time. Google Docs, Approver, and Zoho are three of several options that will let you comment on edits or projects so that everyone knows you’re being productive.
If your employer doesn’t like using these tools, then another way to show that you’re immediately available is to respond to emails quickly. Be thorough with your responses. If it takes eight emails to resolve a problem that a 30-second in-person conversation would have solved, then the company might take a second look at the idea of telecommuting.
9. You can structure your day in useful ways.
When you can telecommute for your professional responsibilities, then managing your own schedule becomes tremendously beneficial. One of the ways that you can encourage long-term productivity is to schedule a 10-minute break for every hour that you work. This process works to mimic the natural pace of working at an office since you don’t get the same lunch breaks or formal meetings that your co-workers must navigate.
Some telecommuters feel guilty about taking that many breaks during the day. It is a way to keep your head clear so that you can maintain your productivity levels. Most people in this situation end up putting in more work than those who go into the office each day.
10. Telecommuters can speak with their managers frequently.
If you need to speak with your direct supervisor regularly, then tools like Skype can let you manage these conversations easily. When people see your face frequently, then it is easier to remember the contributions that you offer to the team. You’ll want to be mindful of the preferred communications methods with this benefit to ensure that you can stay in good standing. Older workers tend to prefer a phone call, while younger managers like to use the latest technologies to stay in touch with their team.
List of the Disadvantages of Telecommuting
1. Workers have less contact with their supervisors and leadership team.
Telecommuting is an excellent option for workers who have an independent spirit and consistent outcomes. There is less personal contact with the leadership team in this environment, so there can be issues with communication with this arrangement. Employers must find people who can make decisions without the need for constant feedback from others.
Some companies try to avoid this disadvantage by holding at least one weekly face-to-face meeting with an entire team. Video chat and conference calls are additional forms of inclusion that have found to be helpful. The telecommuter must be willing to engage in these processes to avoid this disadvantage.
2. Communication hindrances can occur without face-to-face contact.
When you read an email or instant message, the impact on your perception of what is happening is different than what it would be in a face-to-face conversation. The majority of our personal communication tools involve non-verbal insights, such as the tone of voice used or the body language of the individual. The time it takes to resolve misinterpretations that occur can be significantly longer than what is necessary when in each other’s presence.
It takes a skilled telecommuter to understand the meaning behind the communications that occur to ensure everyone stays on the same page. This issue can be enough to cause some employers to stop allowing workers to be productive in a home office situation.
3. Some supervisors find it difficult to provide feedback for people who work from home.
Some leaders love the idea of having telecommuters working for them because it allows them to focus more on the work than the relationship. It can be easier to develop a back-and-forth when someone is primarily working from home than at the office because there are fewer points of conflict that develop.
Then there are the leaders who struggle to provide meaningful feedback because they don’t feel like a relationship is present. They want to offer something that is useful, but the result ends up being the opposite because each perspective comes from a different place. This disadvantage can make it harder for some people to work together.
4. Home-based distractions can cause productivity distractions while telecommuting.
Most telecommuters have a home office that lets them tune out the rest of the world while they stay productive. Some people who work at home struggle with the distractions of social media, television, or video games. Even if the entertainment options are background noise, the challenge to stay focused without direct supervision can be very challenging for some people.
This disadvantage also applies to people who work at an office. Most people own smartphones that give them access to social media, streaming services, and other distractions that reduce productivity levels. The only difference is that a supervisor can confront this behavior in the workplace. No one may know what is actually happening at the home office.
5. Some people miss the social aspect of being in the office with co-workers.
One-third of telecommuters find that the isolation that happens with a home office is their biggest struggle. Communicating with someone over the Internet isn’t the same as having a face-to-face conversation. Some people need the social aspects of the office to maintain their productivity levels. That isn’t always available with this option.
You do have some outlets available that can provide social interactions. You can work from a coffee shop, library, or another approved location. If you have a VPN, then it might be possible to work from almost anywhere. It still isn’t the same as sharing an office space with a person who becomes your friend.
You can also take advantage of shared office spaces provided by organizations like WeWork. If your organization doesn’t pay for this option, then it comes out of your pocket. It might be cheaper than financing a new home office.
6. Being a remote worker could jeopardize your job security.
Telecommuters are often on the chopping block when positions need to disappear for some reason. Since the company sees them as already being away from the organization, it is easier to terminate the relationship held with those individuals. Even if 45% of the working force gets to be at their home office at least one day per week, it isn’t that much of a jump to move to outsourcing for those positions.
The cost of an independent contractor can be significantly lower than a full-time employee with benefits. When the real or perceived distractions make it seem like productivity reductions are possible, then this disadvantage can become a significant issue.
7. You still get to work if the office gets closed.
When a massive snowstorm hit the Seattle area in January 2020, several businesses decided to close for the day. That means workers got to have some paid time off to enjoy the day, although there were some challenges moving around the city. The telecommuters didn’t receive the same luxury. There was an expectation for them to log into their systems to continue working while everyone else went sledding, skiing, or at least out for a long lunch.
8. It is up to you to pay for the needed technology infrastructure.
If you telecommute, then it is up to you to provide the infrastructure needed to stay in contact with your employer. That means you’ll need an Internet connection with enough bandwidth, a desk or place to work, and sometimes the computer that will let you stay productive. Those costs can be quite expensive, especially if you consume enough data each month to go above the residential caps that exist.
The cost of your Internet, computer, and home office can be the equivalent of commuting to the office for an entire year. You have to pay all of those costs upfront to start working, which is a financial position that some people might not be able to manage.
Some people love the idea of being able to work from home. Others hate every minute of the experience. It all depends on what you prefer, the environment that keeps you productive, and if you don’t mind working independently.
The people who typically see the most success with this option are used to social isolation at some level. They can put on some headphones, play their favorite songs, and get to work without the distraction of conversation.
The advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting show it can be an easy way to save money for companies and workers. If you have a home office available to you right now, then it might be worthwhile to accept a work-from-home position. When you need to purchase the equipment to create that space, then it might be cheaper to continue commuting.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.