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The New Era of Telework: Benefits and Drawbacks

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Even in the face of metro outages or inclement weather, productivity loss has remained minimal in the Washington, D.C. metro area—at least among professional workers. This can be largely attributed to the number of both private and public sector organizations with policies in place that allow for scheduled, occasional, or situational remote work. This practice is commonly referred to as teleworking or telecommuting, and typically includes the following:

  • Replacement of time spent working in the office with time spent working from a remote location (often the employee’s own home)
  • The use of telecommunication technology (e.g., phone, email, instant messaging)

The federal government has long been on the forefront of implementing policies and technology that ensure that their employees are "telework-ready." In 2010, Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act, which requires each executive agency to create a telework policy. As a result, all government agencies have procedures for approving employees to telework, training them on the agency’s telework policies, and scheduling how often they will telework. More recently, in 2014, President Obama released a memorandum outlining the benefits of telework. In it, he stressed that easing the burden on of competing personal and professional responsibilities that many employees experience through planned telework can help organizations attract, empower, and retain a talented workforce. Research supports this claim, finding that the availability of benefits that support work-life balance (e.g., childcare, telework) can increase organizational commitment, decrease turnover intentions, increase job satisfaction, and even increase worker productivity. Together, these benefits, and others, can lead to an overall increase in organizational productivity. Following the example of the federal government and others, FMG has recently joined the ranks of employers who offer the benefit of occasional, frequent, or situational telework. As a result, we are learning first-hand how a company-wide telework policy can positively impact recruiting, perceived work life-balance, and job satisfaction.

FMG Telework Pros and Cons

However, with the positive, often comes a few negatives that we can be addressed and navigated as they arise. For one, team members frequently experience communication difficulties when working remotely. This can be attributed to employee preferences and personalities, or IT issues. More concerning, employees who telework may often have trouble forming and maintaining meaningful relationships with their co-workers due to a lack of face-to-face communication, which can lead to feelings of isolation, decreased job satisfaction, and decreased worker productivity. Similarly, employees may feel professionally isolated due to missing out on informal work conversations or developmental opportunities.

Despite the challenges, there is little evidence that the rise in teleworking will stop anytime soon. Currently, an estimated 50% of the U.S. workforce hold jobs that are compatible with telework, while 20-25% of employees actually telework. Especially relevant to professionals in the Washington D.C. area, telework readiness will become critical as employees prepare for the Metrorail track work scheduled to begin soon. Commuters with the option of telework may elect to work from home more often in order to avoid the traffic and public transportation delays that may last for the next year. To make the most of the opportunities teleworking affords an organization and its employees (a healthy, happy, and productive workforce) while minimizing its potentially negative outcomes, stop by the blog on Monday for tips and guidelines on making teleworking work for your organization.

Sources:

Allen, T. D., Golden, T. D., & Shockley, K. M. (2015). How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings.Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(2), 40-68.

Kowalski, K. B., & Swanson, J. A. (2005). Critical success factors in developing teleworking programs. Benchmarking: An International Journal,12(3), 236-249.


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