Telecommuting’s massive growth over the past 20 years gave rise to one of today’s biggest myths about working from home: that everyone is doing it. In reality, only 3.4 percent of the workforce telecommutes part-time or full-time. While regularly working from home has increased by about 159 percent since 2005, the practice still has a long way to go to reach the mainstream. Employers often believe misconceptions about telecommuting that make them hesitant to adopt work-from-home policies company-wide. That’s a shame, as those myths could hold them back from enjoying the benefits of improved productivity, higher employee retention, and overall cost savings on rent and utilities.
Where Myths About Working from Home Come From
While most people view telecommuting as a new trend, it’s been around in some form or another since the early eighties. One of the earliest pioneers was IBM. The company allowed employees to work from home by installing “remote terminals” at their residences. However, in the time before widespread internet access, working remotely was likely cost-prohibitive and impractical for most positions.
Some employers are stuck in traditional thinking and believe employees need in-person oversight in order to work effectively.
A lot of the myths about working from home stem from a lack of understanding about how telecommuting actually works and what resources are available today to support remote work. In some cases, employers are stuck in traditional thinking and believe employees need in-person oversight in order to work effectively. However, evidence has shown that these ideas are outdated and incorrectly paint remote work in a bad light.
Myth #1: It’s only appropriate for a small percentage of jobs
Half of the individuals in the U.S. workforce hold a job which could be done from home. In the past, the pool of potential telecommuters was limited to those who worked in solitary occupations with few client-facing responsibilities or interactions with colleagues. Coding, data entry, medical transcription, and other tasks where individuals only needed a keyboard and perhaps some headphones were ideally suited to telecommuting.
Virtually every industry has some work-from-home opportunities.
However, as technology has improved, so has the pool of individuals who can work from home. With access to video conferencing technology, telephone relay systems, cloud-based software, collaboration tools, and powerful internet access, virtually every industry has some work-from-home opportunities. Healthcare, education, technology, customer service, finance, sales, marketing, and many other industries have seen a major paradigm shift due to technology and the possibilities it creates for telecommuting.
Teachers can provide lessons via video conferencing software. Medical professionals can perform exams and meet with patients remotely. Customer service reps can respond to consumer calls from the comfort of their homes. All this is made possible by innovative technology and powerful internet connections.
Myth #2: It limits productivity
Work-from-home employees are actually more likely to work a full workweek than employees who work in a traditional office setting, based on a study completed by Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom. Bloom ran a controlled study with workers at a Chinese travel agency over a period of two years.
In it, he separated employees into two different groups. One, the control group, continued to work at the agency’s headquarters in Shanghai. The other, the study group, was permitted to work from home. Overall, the work-from-home group had fewer days out of the office due to illness. They were more likely to arrive at work on time, and less likely to leave early. Overall, their productivity went up 13 percent when compared to their counterparts working in the company headquarters. As an unexpected side effect, employee resignations also dropped by 50 percent among the telecommuting group.
Most employees enjoy working from a quieter, more relaxed home environment.
Countless studies have proven that working from home offers a productivity boost, and it’s clear why this is the case. Employees who don’t have to contend with a long commute aren’t late because of traffic. They also don’t leave the office early to avoid the rush hour. Sick employees don’t have to stay out of the office while they’re contagious and may feel more up to the task of working while mildly ill if they can do it from home. Finally, there’s the overall incentive of working from one’s home. Most employees enjoy working from a quieter, more relaxed, more comfortable environment–and they don’t want to risk losing that by slacking off.
Myth #3: It’s impossible to supervise effectively
It’s a common misconception that a supervisor must be able to physically interact with their employees at any time in order to supervise effectively. In fact, in-person supervision isn’t foolproof. An employee who is browsing Facebook or playing computer games can easily switch out screens to look busy when the supervisor walks by.
Remote supervisory work may actually be easier than in-person supervising.
If anything, working from home actually makes a manager’s or supervisor’s job easier–provided the system is set up effectively. By setting appropriate goals and benchmarks, a manager can easily check when work is being done by measuring it based on productivity. Regular check-ins via video conferencing help to maintain accountability and ensure goal progress. In the case of hourly workers, time-tracking software that takes screenshots of the employee’s desktop will track hours down to the minute.
Remote supervisory work may actually be easier than in-person supervising, as resources are specifically designed to objectively track productivity. In the office, on the other hand, the supervisor may assume that because an employee is at their desk, they’re working. Often, that’s not the case.
Today’s tech-savvy, independent workforce is more than prepared for telecommuting, and they’re ready to prove that the myths about working from home are outdated. With a little creativity, telecommuting is effective in every sector and helps supervisors manage employees more efficiently. Employers shouldn’t let telecommuting myths hold them back from enjoying the benefits of lower business overhead, happier, more engaged employees and a stronger, more profitable company overall.