Why telecommuting still makes sense as sustainable business

Why telecommuting still makes sense as sustainable business

Laptop by Mila Supinskaya via Shutterstock

Among the countless considerations that contribute toward building a sustainable business, it's sometimes easy to overlook one of the most obvious steps that managers can take: creating a workplace that attracts the best and brightest talent, then encourages them to stay.

It turns out supporting telecommuting policies is a decision that both makes people happy — translating into a recruiting tool — and appeals to green advocates who support more thoughtful approaches to commuting, according to the third annual Staples survey about this topic.

The top reason that employees like telecommuting is their ability to find a better work/life balance: it was picked as No. 1 by 71 percent of the survey respondents. Transportation savings (69 percent) and green benefits (47 percent) were also among the top three reasons.

Those findings sync up nicely with what the survey shows from the employers' point of view: 65 percent of them believed telecommuting resulted in happier employees, while 33 percent reported lower absenteeism as a result.

Staples conducted the survey, which included 137 decision makers and 174 office workers in the United States and Canada, during March.

Dell, which shows up as No. 3 on FlexJobs' list of the Top 100 Remote Work companies, includes telecommuting as one key part of its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. One of the 21 major goals is to encourage up to 50 percent of Dell's workforce worldwide to participate in flexible arrangements. Right now, that includes about 20 percent of the workforce, or about 20,000 people. Another 20 percent works occasionally from locations outside offices, the company estimates.

"Flexible work practices help to conserve natural resources and energy, reduce transportation-related pollution, promote public safety and lessen the strain on transportation systems," said Cheryl Prahl, vice president of Human Resources Shared Services at Dell. "It also allows us to maximize our use of office space, supporting team members in working where and when they're most productive and minimizing our operating costs and environmental impact."

Realistically, supporting this sort of shift requires companies to rethink the tools and technologies that they provision. For example, the Staples survey shows that 64 percent of employees who are able to work at home struggle with poor virtual private network (VPN) connections at least some of the time, while 58 percent of the employers report that some of their telecommuting employees have connectivity problems at least once per month.

Dell established a new employee resource group to address issues of this nature and to help its remote teams find ways to collaborate and network, Prahl said.

Telecommuting isn't right for every company or every person, especially when the task at hand requires collaboration, a structured work environment or specific tools that just can't be available at home. Those were some reasons cited by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer when she rescinded employees' right to work at home in 2013.

But adoption keeps growing: according to Global Workplace Analytics, about 2.6 percent of U.S. employee workforce (3.3 million people) now considers their home their primary workplace. That compares with just 1.8 million as of 2005.

Top image by Mila Supinskaya via Shutterstock