Note: As of the date of this posting, the number of telecommuters is increasing suddenly and dramatically due to efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s too soon to know whether these temporary measures will change the balance of onsite and remote workers on a permanent basis. It seems likely, however, that a successful remote working experience now will open the door to more demand for the ability to work from home after the health crisis is over.
With that in mind, we are presenting a series of 3 articles concerning telecommuting and the home office benefit. We hope the information and tips in this series will prove valuable to your company whether telecommuting is a short-term solution or part of your ongoing benefits package.
The reason some businesses are reluctant to embrace remote work for their employees is a concern that “when the cat’s away, the mice will play.” Workers without onsite supervision, the logic goes, won’t be as conscientious and engaged as those who are onsite and under the watchful eye of managers. But research suggests that often the opposite is true. Telecommuting workers frequently work harder and more efficiently than their in-office colleagues. In fact, the challenge, in some cases, is keeping them from working too hard.
Remote workers often outpace office workers in two ways—the amount of time they spend on the job, and the productivity they’re able to achieve while they’re there. In terms of sheer hours worked, one study showed that remote workers put in 1.4 more days per month or 16.8 more days for the year.1 And a study conducted by the Stanford Graduate Business School tracked a 13% improvement in performance by telecommuters over onsite workers.2 How is that possible? The research credits several factors, including a very simple one: people aren’t getting into work late or needing to leave early because of commuting issues such as heavy traffic, bad weather, and public transportation delays. Another factor—that remote workers can often concentrate better than their in-office colleagues—might seem suspect until you consider how many distractions, welcome and otherwise, we encounter in a typical day at the office. (A different study found that remote workers actually dedicated ten more minutes per day to “getting work done” than office workers.3) Not every job lends itself to remote work. But employees whose tasks require stretches of unbroken concentration can often get more done away from the office than in it.
Even where telecommuting makes sense, it’s not simply a matter of sending people home and waiting for the benefits to accrue. Working from home can be an adjustment. So can managing people who telecommute. Some companies are investing in training and processes that help maximize the benefits of telecommuting. But you can help make telecommuting pay off by understanding the challenges telecommuters face and responding appropriately.
The number one challenge for most telecommuters isn’t staying “plugged in” to their duties and teams, but rather “unplugging” at the end of the day.4 Although work-life balance is often an incentive for working from home, the fact that the line between working life and home life is getting blurred means that a slightly higher percentage of telecommuters (29%) versus office workers (23%) say they struggle to find that balance.5 In the case of millennial workers the problem is even greater. Almost one in three telecommuting millennials is stressed out over striking the right balance between work life and home life.6
There’s also anxiety about potentially being “out of the loop” as a result of working remotely. Fifty-four percent of telecommuters reported being “overly stressed” during the workday, as compared to 49% of office workers.7
Then there are the expenses that come with telecommuting. Setting up a home office can mean purchasing a desk, a computer, monitor, perhaps a printer and scanner, an ergonomically sound chair, a dedicated phone, special software, etc. Prior to the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employees could deduct a portion of their home office expenses from their federal tax return. Now, however that deduction no longer exists for telecommuters unless they are self-employed.
So, what can you do about these issues? Have a policy. Start by making your expectations for hours and performance clear. At the same time, let remote workers know they are allowed to set reasonable boundaries between work and home lives. Communicate frequently, so remote team members feel confident that they know what’s going on. Have managers concentrate on results, not on constant check-ins. If an employee is at 100% remote and it’s causing stress for the employee or others at the office, experiment with having that employee spend a certain number of days per week or month in the office. Take the financial pressure off employees and show your support for telecommuting by offering a Home Office Account benefit, an employer-funded, tax-advantaged account that reimburses remote employees for qualifying out-of-pocket home office expenditures.
Pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for you and your telecommuting employees, adjust and refine your processes and communication, and the wave of the future could work for you today.
Editor’s Note: TASC is here to support our customers and provide benefits to assist those in need of creating and maintaining a home office/remote workplace. Our tax-advantaged Home Office Account provides a convenient way for employers to quickly reimburse employees for their eligible home office expenses and help ease their financial burden. We have other benefit account offerings tailored to help your employees with unexpected expenses that incur during times of need or in response to a changing workplace. View benefits here - https://tascresponds.com/employee-benefits/
1 “The Benefits of Working from Home,” Airtasker, September 2019: https://www.airtasker.com/blog/the-benefits-of-working-from-home/
2 “Why Working from Home is a ‘Future-Looking Technology,” Stanford Graduate School of Business, June 2017: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/why-working-home-future-looking-technology
4 “State of Remote Work,” Buffer, 2019: https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019
5 “The Benefits of Working from Home,” Airtasker, September 2019: https://www.airtasker.com/blog/the-benefits-of-working-from-home/