To many Americans, part-time telecommuting or remotely working full-time from home has a positive impact on their engagement, productivity, happiness, health and work-life balance.
According to the Staples Business Advantage 2016 Workplace Index, only 11.5% of employees say they wouldn’t want to telecommute, and one-third of respondents noted their job satisfaction would dramatically decrease if they could not telecommute. 13% said they would look for another job.
FlexJobs recently noted the number of telecommuting workers has increased by 103% since 2005, and telecommuting grew 6.5% in 2014 alone—the largest year-over-year increase since before the 2008 recession. All told, FlexJobs estimates that 3.7 million employees, or 2.5% of the workforce, work from home at least part-time.
Ensuring ‘work from home’ isn’t miserable
There are caveats when it comes to make working from home really work both for employer and employee, according to Krisha Buehler, HR manager and culture cultivator at eaHELP in Atlanta. Buehler should know, since every one of the eaHELP’s 400-member workforce (virtual executive assistants) are remote employees. Even eaHELP’s corporate staff works from home, so Buehler is a true believer in the idea that employees can be productive from home – and it doesn’t require working 60-70 hours a week.
But Buehler says that in her view, work-life balance for remote employees is not realistic. Today, those who work at home need to adopt more of a work-life "integration" mindset.
“There is no such thing as achieving the perfect balance between work and home life, even when you’re not a remote worker,” she says. “Over-time, work-life balance has become a dream more than a possibility. Balance means having different things in equal amounts – however, life isn’t that clean-cut.”
For example, the obvious challenge for at-home workers comes when it’s time to turn work off, she says, explaining that constantly-connected workers struggle with the temptation to check their phones at dinner or their kid’s baseball game. “If they never set a time to ‘turn off’ work and be present with their families, work and home, it creates an uneasy balance until one or the other breaks,” she says.
Buehler’s basic tenet is that achieving that integration requires a special, concentrated effort. For example, her company encourages virtual assistants to set specific work hours and adhere to them, have a separate area in the house for work, avoid checking work emails during “off” hours, and take vacation time on a regular basis.
She admits the same is true for any workaholic type, even if they work in an office, but there is something about working from home that might make it ever tougher to accomplish – the 24/7 physical aspects of home working present a much different dynamic.
With technology today enabling collaboration from anywhere, more employers are considering the upside of either a partial or completely offsite workforce. Buehler offering these tech-driven benefits:
- Access to top-notch talent or must-have skills that may not be readily accessible within the local market.
- A reduction in capital outlay or the continuous costs of maintaining physical infrastructure, perhaps lowering costs related to maintenance, expansions, office assets and variable and unanticipated costs (higher property taxes and OSHA fines).
- The capacity to still offer face time if or when you need it via webcam and video technologies, deployable on an individual, one-on-one or team basis.
How employers can support telework
“Older strategies to maximize productivity don’t necessarily translate to the remote workforce,” she says. “There are other considerations for remote workers who want to thrive offsite, and even the most disciplined remote worker struggles to maintain distinctions between where work and life happen.”
Having no physical boundaries for where you work could "get in the way." For example, work papers scattered across the house could cause a problem. And it can "get in the way" emotionally too, potentially damaging relationships and family time
Buehler recommends flexible scheduling as one strategy, as it helps employers retain valuable employees.
“Employers bear a responsibility when it comes to supporting and advancing a remote workforce,” she says. “Their obligations are not stripped away simply because said contributors no longer report to an office.”
Of course, employers with virtual employees also have a responsibility to provide the latter with the tools and resources to optimize their work performance. This may include, but not be limited to, employer-supplied ergonomic workspaces/furniture, high-functioning technical equipment that meets organizational standards and, if necessary, special accommodations for employees who need it.
“Even if workers don’t have a separate office for work in their homes, claiming even the corner of a room as their designated workspace can make a huge difference,” she says, adding that video conferencing means employees must sit in a location that looks professional (no dirty laundry or a barking dog showing up in the background).
In Buehler’s HR philosophy, it’s more realistic to set that goal focused on work-life integration – getting at how work and life are interdependent and interconnected. How do they thrive on and influence one another? For example, work doesn’t have to constantly compete with outside life – so maybe one day the office takes priority, but tomorrow personal passions are put first and you leave a work task on the to-do list
“It’s important to acknowledge that there may never be total balance between the two, but that’s okay – integration is key,” Buehler says.