Telecommuting A-Z: The Ultimate Guide for Remote Working

In this guide, we’ll cover telecommuting from top to bottom.

Whether you are new to telecommuting or you have years of experience working from home, this guide will have something to offer.

Among other things, readers will learn…

  • What telecommuting is and why it is important
  • The pros and cons of telecommuting
  • How telecommuting affects employee performance and the organization
  • What it’s like to telecommute
  • Tips for staying productive, safe, and sane

Let’s start by looking at the meaning of this term.

Key Definitions and Concepts Related to Telecommuting

Telecommuting means working from home while corresponding with an office via telephone, the internet, and other communication technology.

Two other terms that mean the same thing are remote working and teleworking.

With the advent of the internet, telecommuting has become commonplace.

Digital technology makes it easy to collaborate with coworkers and stay productive, regardless of location.

In fact, remote working technology has contributed to the rise of major business trends, such as:

  • The digital workplace. The digital workplace revolves around digital technology – but this means more than simply implementing new software or tools. It also means revamping organizational culture, business strategy, and business processes – as well as adopting new workflows and work processes, such as remote working.
  • The home office. Prior to the internet, telecommuting was not the norm. Since the beginning of the digital era, however, the number of teleworkers has risen sharply. The home office has become more common as a result, allowing telecommuters to be as productive at home as they are at work.
  • Virtual teams. A virtual team is composed of remote workers, who may or may not be located in the same area. Virtual team members can quite literally be scattered on the other side of the globe from one another, using digital technology to collaborate and communicate.
  • Virtual businesses. A virtual business is composed entirely of employees that work remotely. Such businesses are less common than brick-and-mortar businesses, but thanks to the internet and the potential for digital collaboration, we are seeing more such businesses arise each year.

And, as we will cover next, telecommuting delivers a number of benefits, both to employees and to the organization.

The Importance of Telecommuting in an Ever-Changing Digital World

With each passing year, organizations are realizing the value of telecommuting.

Remote work is not just a “nice option” for employees – it also delivers a number of benefits for the organization itself.

Below, we’ll explore why telecommuting is valuable for both employees and employers in today’s digital business world.

Telecommuting in the Context of the Evolving Digital Economy

In today’s world, digital disruption is causing transformation across the entire global economy. 

New technology is opening up a number of new possibilities for organizations.

Here are a few examples:

  • Digital technology and the internet enable workers to communicate and collaborate virtually
  • Data, analytics, and machine learning can add new levels of insight to existing business functions
  • Employee training platforms can help workforces keep up with the ever-widening digital skills gap
  • Data-powered software and new technology, such as sensors, add greater speed, efficiency, and flexibility to the supply chain
  • The right software can help transform the digital workplace and improve remote working capabilities

Digital transformations such as these are only the tip of the ice berg.

Businesses are adopting new technology at an unprecedented pace, which is fueling changes to business processes, business models, and workplaces.

In today’s competitive landscape, these new approaches to business are not just luxuries – they are a competitive advantage.

To stay in the race for digital maturity and maintain a competitive footing, organizations must use every tool at their disposal.

Telecommuting is one such tool, since it can deliver competitive advantages to both employees and organizations.

Benefits for Employees

There are several ways that telecommuting benefits employees, some of which were covered above. 

For instance:

  • Many employees prefer to work from home – and are even willing to take a pay cut to do it
  • Remote working can increase productivity and engagement, among other important employee metrics
  • Increased employee satisfaction and engagement can improve other employee metrics, such as retention 
  • Telecommuting can decrease stress levels, helping improve employee well-being and the overall work environment

In Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report, more than 3,500 remote workers were surveyed about their experience as a remote worker.

According to respondents, the biggest benefits of remote work included:

  • The ability to have a flexible schedule (32%)
  • The ability to work anywhere (26%)
  • Not having to commute (21%)
  • The ability to spend time with family (11%)

Of course, in order to provide such benefits to employees, it is important to design appropriate telecommuting policies and teach employees how to stay productive when working remotely (see below).

Benefits for Organizations

Naturally, employee benefits translate into benefits for the entire organization:

  • Organizations can cut costs on work-related expenses, such as workspace overhead and transportation. Since workers no longer need to commute to work, they will not incur costs associated with the physical workplace. For instance, if an employee works remotely, then the business does not need to pay any of the utility costs or rental costs for that person’s desk. Organizations that subsidize or pay for transportation can also avoid those fees.
  • Businesses can become more flexible and resilient when external circumstances, such as natural disasters or virus outbreaks, interfere with daily operations. When employees can work remotely, they will remain productive even during extenuating circumstances. The COVID-19 outbreak forced workers around the globe to begin working from home, demonstrating another benefit of remote working: disaster prevention.
  • Happier employees can also boost the employer brand – that is, the organization’s reputation as a place to work. Another indirect benefit of teleworking options is the reputation boost. Today, many employees want to work for employers that offer remote working options. Companies that allow telecommuting will stand apart from those that do not.
  • Improved employee performance leads to improved organizational performance. Naturally, employee performance improvements lead straight to organizational performance improvements. When telecommuters are more engaged and productive, in other words, the organization becomes more productive.

In short, telecommuting is a good way to modernize the workplace, offering a number of advantages at multiple levels.

To better understand telecommuting, let’s explore some of the most commonly asked questions around this topic.

Telecommuting FAQ

These questions and answers will shed some light on how telecommuting works, why it’s important, and how to telework effectively.

What is it like to telecommute?

Telecommuting differs from working in an office in several ways:

  • Workers rely heavily on digital technology – more so than when working in the office. In a physical office, workers can communicate verbally, hold regular meetings, and interact socially. When working remotely, however, employees must use digital technology for even the most basic communication needs. For this reason, digital literacy is an absolute must.
  • Telecommuting is often a solitary affair. When working from home, the social environment of the workplace is completely absent. Though everyone has a different tolerance for solitude, the vast majority of people require a certain amount of social interaction. 
  • The experience of working alone can be enjoyable and beneficial for certain employees, but less so for others. For some, a quiet home office can prove beneficial and dramatically boost productivity, as one Stanford study showed. For others, however, the solitude can be a source of unease. If left unchecked, that solitude can give way to feelings of isolation, which can be emotionally detrimental. (See below for tips on how to combat this problem.)

It is also worth pointing out the obvious fact that not everyone can work remotely.

For manual labor jobs, retail positions, or many jobs in the food service industry, for example, a physical presence is required.

What are the drawbacks of telecommuting?

There are a great many benefits to telecommuting, as we saw above. 

However, remote working does have its drawbacks. When designing telecommuting policies, it is useful to be aware of potential drawbacks in order to mitigate risk.

As mentioned, one of the biggest differences between telecommuting and working in the office is the social element.

On the one hand, this reduction in social interaction can remove a great deal of distraction from the work environment, boosting employee engagement and productivity.

On the other hand, a lack of social interaction can negatively affect…

  • Workplace relationships and engagement. The less that workers interact with one another, the less likely they are to build strong bonds. Loneliness and feelings of isolation can erode morale, solidarity, and job satisfaction. Unless steps are taken to prevent these issues, employees can become disengaged.
  • Organizational culture. When employees become disengaged and have little social contact, the organization’s culture can become weaker. Employees who are left out of the office’s social environment will naturally feel left out. 
  • Managers’ ability to oversee their employees. Managers who do not come into personal contact with employees will not be able to supervise their activities. This can be mitigated with certain tools, such as telecommuting policies, software, and appropriate management practices.

In the aforementioned survey by Buffer, respondents claimed that, from their perspective, the biggest struggles with remote working included:

  • Collaboration and communication (20%)
  • Loneliness (20%)
  • Not being able to unplug (18%)
  • Distractions at home (12%)

One way to avoid such problems – while still taking advantage of the benefits offered by telecommuting – is allowing workers to work from home part of the time. Another is to teach workers a few strategies and tips for preventing these issues.

Organizations may also implement other measures that give employees more freedom and control over their schedule, such as flex-time.

Developing a strategy to overcoming such problems, as we will see later, is important when developing a telecommuting strategy.

What do employees need to get started with telecommuting?

To work from home, an employee must have:

  • A reliable internet connection. First and foremost, an internet connection is needed to stay connected in an online world. Naturally, jobs that require continual use of the internet will require higher quality internet connections.
  • The right tools. Employees must have the core platforms that they use in their daily jobs, communication and collaboration tools, as well as other tools that facilitate remote working. 
  • The right mindset and workflow. Remote working is more suitable for some people than for others. Staying productive when telecommuting requires the right personality, an effective telecommuting workflow, and the proper mindset. Some of these factors can be influenced, while others cannot – prolonged telecommuting can prove detrimental to the wrong employees.
  • The right digital skills. Digital literacy is a basic requirement for remote workers. On top of that, of course, employees must be proficient with the tools of their particular trade, as well as any other software platforms that they need for telecommuting purposes.
  • A job that can be performed from home. Of course, another prerequisite for telecommuting is holding the right type of job. Employees who must interact with customers in person or perform manual labor, for instance, cannot telecommute.

If a worker can check off all of these boxes, then telecommuting can be both profitable and enjoyable.

What types of tools are useful for telecommuters?

Workers will use the primary software that they need for their own job, as well as collaboration tools.

For instance, a graphic designer would work with Adobe products as well as collaboration tools to communicate with team members, such as Slack. Other tools can include HR software or office software.

To facilitate telecommuting, the forward-thinking organization will also use tools such as:

  • Project management tools. Project management tools are excellent for collaboration and, of course, project management. They are easily accessible from the web, making them ideal for coordinating projects and teams remotely.
  • Communication tools. Communication software can include chat apps, video conferencing apps, and any other collaborative tool. There are also many applications that include communication features, such as project management tools. However, most businesses have specific apps for chatting, conferencing, project management and so forth. Teleworkers should be able to use them all.
  • Productivity boosting applications. There are quite a few apps that can help employees “hack” their productivity. A few examples include: time-tracking apps, apps that block social media to prevent distractions, apps that gamify the work environment, and performance trackers.
  • Digital adoption platforms (DAPs). Digital adoption platforms train employees directly inside an application. They are ideal for remote workers, who can learn software at their own pace, without the need for human intervention.

Since remote workers are becoming more and more common, organizations should do all they can to improve the telecommuting experience. 

More engaged workers are, after all, more satisfied with their jobs and more productive.

How should organizations get started with a telecommuting program?

Organizations should view telecommuting as they would any other business endeavor – namely, as an investment.

If possible, telecommuting options should be pilot tested and evaluated.

However, in certain rare circumstances, this is not possible. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, organizations around the world were forced to adopt telecommuting programs virtually overnight.

Regardless of how quickly an organization scales up its telecommuting program, it is important to manage the change effectively.

This means:

  • Explaining the reasons for implementing a telecommuting program
  • Gaining support for the change
  • Ensuring that employees have the right tools and skills do perform their duties
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of the program
  • Continually improving telecommuting efforts over time

As with most other business efforts, it pays to stay agile, employee-centered, and data-driven. 

Though HR departments certainly have enough work on their schedules as it is, taking a structured approach to teleworking will deliver better results than one that is unstructured and informal.

Telecommuting Best Practices, Strategies, and Tips

Below, we’ll look at a few do’s and don’ts that can help both employees and organizations make the most out of their telecommuting programs.

Credit: toggl.com

For Workers

Here are a few tips that can help employees learn to work remotely – while staying sane, safe, and productive:

  • Have the right setup. A dedicated workspace or home office, the right computer hardware, work-related software, an internet connection, and office equipment are essential. The digital tools are just as important as the physical space, since the physical workspace affects one’s ability to concentrate and be productive. It is important to control the environment and ensure that it helps to create an appropriate mindset for working.
  • Minimize distractions. Distractions can come in many forms. Family members, pets, noise, and many other factors can have a significant impact on productivity. Though some social distractions can help reduce feelings of solitude and isolation, it is important to take steps to minimize the negative effects of distraction as much as possible. For instance: clear rules can help keep family members from interfering with work, a dedicated office can help maintain concentration, headphones can cancel out noise. 
  • Stick to a strict schedule. Time management is just as important as space management. Sticking to a schedule – the same schedule that one adopts at the office – can help maintain a “workplace mindset.” The schedule should reflect one’s typical workday, with a start time, a stop time, break times, a lunch break, and so forth. 
  • Monitor emotional and mental health. It is important to stay emotionally healthy, since too much solitude can breed feelings of isolation and loneliness. And those feelings, in turn, can have a very negative effect on one’s emotional state and one’s ability to work effectively. To counteract and prevent these problems, it is important to know one’s own social needs and meet them as best as possible.
  • Boost productivity with the right software and the right skills. Digital literacy and digital tools are fundamental requirements for anyone who wants to work remotely. Without both of those, an employee will not be able to perform their duties effectively. This may require the adoption of new software, which will in turn require a certain amount of training. But the payoff will be well worth the effort.

Of course, employees only represent one side of the equation.

The organization must also do its part to ensure that employees can succeed when working remotely.

For Organizations

For employees to be successful, the organization should take a proactive, strategic approach to telecommuting.

Namely, organizations should…

  • Understand the benefits of telecommuting. Though certain people may have an aversion to remote working, it is important to be as unbiased as possible when evaluating the pros and cons of telecommuting. Having a solid understanding of those benefits and drawbacks can help when developing telecommuting policies, procedures, and implementation strategies. It can also help when obtaining buy-in from stakeholders.
  • Use software designed to improve employee productivity. There are a myriad of ways to improve employee productivity with software. Digital adoption platforms (DAPs), for instance, can automate in-software training, helping users gain digital skills without the need for human intervention. Slack apps can be used to gamify the digital workplace, analyze engagement, and more. 
  • Ensure that employees comply with their telecommuting policy. Telecommuting policies should outline the agreement made between employees and employers. Areas to cover include: expectations around the quality of work, who will cover equipment costs, requirements regarding departmental and organizational policies, time requirements, and so forth.
  • Track performance and measure results. Telecommuting programs should be evaluated to determine their effectiveness. A 90-day trial can be used to evaluate effectiveness with a specific employee, for instance. Evaluations should focus on areas such as employee performance, costs, and compliance.
  • Modify. If necessary, working arrangements can be modified to fit an individual’s needs. Organizations can also analyze and optimize telecommuting from an organization-wide perspective. Adjustments, such as implementing new training software or gamification apps, can then be tracked to gauge their impact on workforce performance and organizational performance.

Fortunately, most employees who are capable of working independently will be able to adapt to a telecommuting work style – and they may even prefer it. 

A Step-by-Step Process for Implementing Telecommuting in the Workplace

Here is a straightforward roadmap that can be used to guide the implementation of new telecommuting programs.

1. Develop a telecommuting policy

A telecommuting policy, mentioned briefly above, outlines an agreement between employees and employers. 

It covers areas such as:

  • Expectations around productivity and work quality
  • Who will cover the costs of equipment, software, and tools needed to work from home
  • Other costs associated with telecommuting
  • Requirements related to time commitments, communication, and child care

The policy, like an employment contract, should be designed to keep employees as productive as possible.

2. Follow a structured approach to change management if necessary

When implementing a telecommuting agreement on a case-by-case basis, there is typically no need to create a complex project plan.

If a single employee wants to test out teleworking, then the matter can typically be handled by HR and that employee’s department.

However, if an organization wants to implement large-scale telecommuting – a scenario that played out globally during the COVID-19 outbreak – then it pays to take a more strategic approach.

Namely, businesses should:

  • Perform analyses, such as a gap analysis and a SWOT analysis, to determine the potential risks and benefits of a telecommuting program
  • Set goals, objectives, metrics, and KPIs
  • Measure program performance and make adjustments

For example, if a business implements telecommuting in order to cut costs, then its measurements would revolve around those savings.

3. Build awareness and desire through communication and incentives

One of the first aims of any change management program is to build awareness around the need for change.

Effective communication is the recipe for successfully building that awareness. Among other things, it is important to:

  • Explain the reasons for the telecommuting effort
  • Describe the nature of the program and how it will occur
  • Stress the personal benefits that telecommuting will offer

Building awareness is an excellent way to reduce friction and confusion. This will, in turn, reduce the potential for resistance, while improving engagement.

4. Build skills through training and adoption programs

In a digitally mature organization, employees most likely use modern SaaS tools in their everyday work routines.

However, not all employees are used to working remotely and may require additional training on certain tools or platforms, such as collaboration tools or project management tools.

It also pays to invest in performance-boosting tools and to invest in productivity apps such as Slack bots.

After all, greater digital skills translates directly into performance improvements.

5. Review, reinforce, and optimize

Throughout trial runs and test phases, those in charge of the telecommuting effort should continue to collect and analyze data.

Tracking teleworker productivity can be relatively straightforward – focus on output and quantitative metrics, such as:

  • Quantity of work completed
  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Work quality

These metrics should be assigned and agreed upon prior to the start of the teleworking program. 

Then, once evaluation time arrives, performance can be evaluated and the telework program can be modified if necessary.

Given the substantial benefits of telecommuting we have covered here, organizations would do well to begin testing remote working programs to see how their workforce fares.

Also – above and beyond the real ROI of telecommuting – the fact is that telecommuting is destined to become a major part of tomorrow’s work world.

The Future of Telecommuting

What does the future of telecommuting look like?

There are a number of lenses through which we can view the issue.

As mentioned earlier, teleworking can make it difficult for employees to remain aligned with an organizational culture. Since they work off-site and are not part of the traditional workforce, they will automatically be more distanced from the organization, both physically and culturally.

However, this is a problem that can be surmounted.

Organizational Culture and the Future of Telecommuting

According to Deloitte, tomorrow’s workforce will be composed of several groups:

  • Traditional workers, who work on campus as full- or part-time employees
  • Teleworkers and other remote workers who work off-site
  • Transactional remote workers who deliver services per diem
  • Outside contractors who work on-site but are not part of the core workforce

The segmentation of this workforce poses unique challenges when it comes to creating a company culture.

Though remote workers and contract workers have less social contact with the organization, culture still plays an important role in shaping behavior and including workers in that culture.

One of Deloitte’s main recommendations is to start with a clearly articulated culture and purpose.

With that defined, it will be easier to screen potential candidates – such as transactional remote workers – and build up an alternative workforce who fits with the corporate mission and culture.

Technology and the Future of Telecommuting

Tools and technology are another area where we can expect to see changes.

Fast Company has five predictions regarding the future of telecommuting:

  • Remote tools will become standard, even among non-remote staff
  • Remote workers will complete more work through mobile devices, thanks to advancements such as predictive text and artificial intelligence
  • Video conferencing will be replaced by VR conferencing
  • Communication tools will continue to fragment and employees will use an ever-increasing number of tools in their daily workflows
  • AI will take over some management and oversight of remote workers

Given the pace of technological advancements and the many benefits of teleworking covered here, it should come as no surprise that this trend will only continue to escalate in the years to come.

Conclusion: Telecommuting Is the Future

Many predict that remote working is the future.

And it is not hard to see why – remote working delivers enormous benefits both for organizations and for individual employees.

In fact, in Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report, 98% of current remote workers claimed that they wanted to continue to work remotely for the rest of their careers. And 97% said that they would recommend remote work to others.

Given that today’s remote workers have such strong feelings for remote work, organizations should strongly consider adopting telecommuting programs into their organization.

After all, if so many remote workers are so passionate about working remotely, then they may choose to only work with companies that can accommodate telecommuters.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.