The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

Anyone who has ever had to sit next to a nosy or disruptive co-worker has probably also craved the solitary existence of the telecommuter. But is telecommuting a good thing? It can be for people in the right career fields. As long as an employee is trustworthy, is it really necessary for a data entry clerk to spend 30 minutes smashed like a sardine with fellow commuters on public transportation, and then spend eight hours hunched over a computer in a cubicle that’s barely bigger than one of the stalls in a restroom? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that telecommuting is the answer.

Some people thrive on being able to roll out of bed, brew a cup of coffee and get right to work while still in their pajamas. Others need the structure and predictability of working on a set time schedule. Yes, telecommuters can set their own schedules and create the structure they want, but let’s face it; for some people, it’s easier if those things are already set up for them.

According to Slate, a study done in a call center in China proved that telecommuters tend to be as productive as or more productive than their commuting co-workers. The freedom to set their own schedules was a definite plus, especially for those who had school-aged children. The positive effect on productivity makes telecommuting good for employers. But what about employees? Is telecommuting really a good idea? Well, yes, but not for everyone. After all was said and done with the experiment in China, only a little more than half of the employees who were eligible for telecommuting opted to do it. Those of you who are still stuck in cubicles might wonder why. It’s simple. Human beings are social creatures. Even so-called loners crave human contact and interaction from time to time.

Walk past any coffee shop, and you’ll see people sitting at tables with their laptops and lattés working away. While they may love the flexibility of telecommuting, they don’t like the isolation. That’s what set off the co-working trend where people from various industries lease work spaces in office buildings. This gets them out among other human beings in an environment that’s more professional – and probably a lot quieter – than the local coffee shop.

Another drawback to telecommuting is that employees can lose touch with what’s going on in the office. Managers can prevent this type of disconnect by sending regular emails to all employees any time the company or department makes a change that could affect them or by scheduling regular meetings that everyone must attend. Telecommuters often find themselves out of the loop when it comes to office gossip, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since office gossip tends to contain as much speculation and innuendo as it does actual facts.

Could there be a happy medium between commuting and telecommuting? Slate seems to think the answer is flex time. Flex time allows people, such as parents, to come in after taking their children to school, leave early to pick them up and then work at home to make up for lost office time.

Telecommuting can work for both employers and employees when it’s a good fit for all. But if telecommuting isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Maybe flex time is all you need to have the perfect work-life balance.