Telework, also called remote work, has been gaining popularity over the last few decades.
Telework or telecommuting is when an employee does not commute to a primary office location for work, but instead works from home. Working remotely for an all-remote company, such as Zapier, Museum Hack, and Hotjar, is also considered telework. As is working from an off-site location, like a satellite office, coffee shop, airport, hotel, or co-working space, for a company or client located elsewhere.
Those are just the most common examples. As a rule of thumb, telework includes most kinds of distance work, but does not include any part of work done while on official travel or mobile work. Telework positions can include software engineers, online tutors, writers, travel agents and more.
Naturally, the rise of the internet has made flexible work or telework feasible for more people worldwide. About 60% of senior managers report they telework at least on occasion. Telework has been adopted at many companies and has become a standard practice across industries.
The Advantages of Telework
One of the most often cited advantages of teleworking is its value as an employee perk. One in three employees would choose a routine telework opportunity over a pay raise.
Workers’ interest in remote work can be an advantage for employers, too. It’s a way to attract and retain talent and keep payroll costs down. On top of that, it can be strategically implemented as a way to cut costs and raise the bottom line.
Many companies save resources using telework to replace business travel as video conferencing replaces the need for in-person meetings. Virtual collaboration tools enable people to get work done across long distances.
LBA Logistics, for example, is a national, vertically integrated logistics company that utilizes telework heavily. Teams and clients spread across dozens of cities often need to collaborate, view real-time data together, and meet face to face. Without the ability to telework, it would be difficult for LBA to operate as an enterprise.
There’s some evidence that a balance of remote and in-office work yields higher productivity, not only among introverts but also among extroverts. Mileage may vary, but for many employees, remote work can offer a more efficient way to get things done.
Another advantage of telework—one that’s on everyone’s mind considering the spread of COVID-19—is that it can prevent people from coming to work when they’re sick. Many employees who loathe using a “sick day” end up coming into the office while they’re sick, especially if the illness doesn’t seem serious.
At PGi, where all of our employees are equipped with top-tier telework tools, we want to keep our whole team as healthy as possible. We believe in the freedom to work wherever as needed makes our offices safer for everyone.
The Unique Challenges of Telework
As many advantages as there are to telework and telecommuting, there are also some downsides. Like anything else, tradeoffs are part of the game.
Loneliness is a common struggle among remote workers. It takes a conscious effort to ensure you’re getting enough social interaction to be psychologically healthy.
Remote workers also report difficulty in achieving work-life balance. Especially when working from home, remote workers are often surrounded by the tools, tech, materials, and supplies associated with work. This can make it tough to set boundaries when you’re “at work” all the time. Office workers have the potential to draw cut-and-dry lines between “at work” and “not at work,” but remote workers often find themselves blurring that line.
Efficient communication can also be a challenge for remote workers and teams. Without the ability to pull a group of people into a meeting room, or swing by someone’s desk for a quick chat, it can feel more difficult to collaborate. Closing the physical gap created by telework requires more refined communication skills and technology.
Managing remote teams is a distinct skill, different from managing local teams. In addition to responsibilities such as conflict resolution and goal-setting, which can look different on a remote team, managers have other responsibilities that are totally unique to the remote team setting. For example, it’s the manager’s job to encourage “face time” and help with remote team-building, bringing people together despite their physical separation.
Perceptions of Telework
Some teleworkers worry about being secretly shamed for working from home. However, in a survey of people who noted that they were not allowed to work from home, perceptions of teleworking colleagues were still generally positive.
For example, 51% said they felt their coworkers who worked from home were just as productive as they were in office, and 14% felt they were actually more productive.
On top of that, 64% of non-teleworkers reported that they did not feel like their remote working peers were given any sort of break on the amount of work given to them.
These findings suggest that implementing a balanced telework option is unlikely to harm a company’s culture. In fact, it might do a lot of good.
Telework and Technology
At any company, various conditions must be met to make teleworking both practical and efficient. Remote work requires a strong foundation of interpersonal trust, and it can require advanced workplace strategies, as Deloitte frames it. But above all, the most important enabling factor is technology. Without the right tools, telework is either inefficient or impossible.
Here are the most important technological capabilities necessary for telework:
Video conferencing tools
When in-person meetings are impossible or impractical, video conferencing is the best alternative. Video conferencing tools should, at the very minimum, have high-quality, reliable video and audio with screen-sharing and file-sharing capabilities. Additional great-to-have features include seamless integration with your calendar tools (e.g., Outlook), and the ability to join a meeting without having to download anything.
Some companies really depend on that capability, including Viamedia, where employees host client-facing communications across more than 70 cities. This suite of features makes it possible to get just as much done in a video meeting as during an in-person meeting, with no technological interruptions.
Secure UCaaS solution
Remote workers use calling and texting in addition to video conferencing, and it’s wise to keep those communications centralized. That’s where Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) comes in. A UCaaS platform brings all of those capabilities together for secure, centralized access.
With a companywide UCaaS solution, instead of calling and texting each other on their personal phone lines (or worse, their social media accounts), employees can text, group chat, and call using the same app. This is an important security measure and is generally good practice if communications need to be monitored or evaluated in any way. For a UCaaS solution, crystal-clear audio quality is a must. Additionally, call recording, transcription, custom greetings, and SSO integrations are good to have.
Video streaming for large groups
Sometimes, big groups need to come together for an all-hands meeting, a webcast, a training, or a large team gathering. This is one of the situations that put your communications tools to the test: if they’re not sophisticated enough, it’s simply not possible to connect that many people without technological difficulties.
Interest in teleworking is growing, both in the short term due to COVID-19, and also long term as a general trend. The rising tide of telework isn’t likely to reverse in the coming years, because telework has many benefits.
For individuals, it’s considered a work/life balance improvement. So much so that many employees say they’d choose telework over a pay raise. It’s also a good way to keep sick employees from coming into the office and infecting their colleagues.
For companies, telework can raise the bottom line by reducing payroll costs. It can also reduce the cost of business travel, and some companies have even used telework to eliminate the costs of renting/owning office space.
If you’re thinking of trying telework, either as an individual or a corporate leader, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
For one, you need a plan to address the challenges associated with telework. More than anything else, remote workers report loneliness as one of their fundamental challenges. This is a problem that only gets worse if you brush it off, and it’s not good for productivity. It’s best to have a loneliness prevention plan for keeping yourself and/or your staff psychologically healthy.
Another thing to consider is communication and management. Managing projects and teams remotely is not exactly the same as doing so in an office. So, especially if you run an enterprise, equip your leaders and staff with state-of-the-art communication tools. As part of that, ensure that you’re upskilling as needed to ensure the technology is adopted and productivity remains high.
Ultimately, telework has many benefits on both individual and corporate levels. In an emergency situation, it can literally be a life-saver. You can learn more about making telework possible here.