They are tough out there in Grayson County, Texas. Not even the complications of recovery from triple bypass heart surgery can prevent them from getting on with their jobs. With the help of a video conferencing connection, Grayson County Commissioner Jeff Whitmire recently resumed his professional duties well ahead of schedule by attending a weekly meeting from his home.
The virtual appearance helped keep the process of formulating a new civic budget in motion, and is a great example of how telecommuting–the act of working remotely via video conference, email, or phone–can maintain the momentum of a modern workplace despite the physical absence of key team members.
In fact, telecommuting when sick offers a number of workplace advantages, from preventing the spread of illness to increasing productivity and reducing incidents of stress. It’s an accessible and affordable office solution that is growing in popularity across the U.S.
Making Telecommuting Simple
Jeff Whitmire’s virtual appearance was a first for Grayson County, and it didn’t proceed without complication. While the patient himself was reported to be in fine spirits despite his recent ordeal, his presence at the regular weekly meeting didn’t count toward the number of commissioners needed to reach a quorum. Still, he was able to take part in the discussion, submit questions from his remote location, and second motions made during the meeting. It is a quirk of the legalities governing the use of video conferencing that stipulate the virtual party must be visible to and able to converse with everyone in attendance at the meeting, and Grayson County’s video facilities were able to reach that benchmark.
Given the success of Whitmire’s remote appearance, perhaps the building’s video system will eventually be in line for an upgrade. And such an improvement will not be expensive. The growth in telecommuting–there has been a 115 percent increase in the use of such technology since 2005–is in part driven by the affordability and availability of the necessary hardware and software.
Today, a high-end 4K-capable webcam costs around $200, video conferencing vendors charge less than $10 a month for their services, and the average commercial broadband connection can comfortably accommodate video calls involving large groups of participants.
That low entry-level cost means more and more of us will soon be returning to work more quickly by telecommuting when sick.
Telecommuting When Sick
Most telecommuting when sick will involve ailments far less dramatic than major heart surgery. However, the economic impact of even common seasonal colds and flu can have a big impact on a business. The 2018 winter is estimated to have cost U.S. businesses around $21 billion in lost productivity.
Some of that lost productivity is going to be unavoidable, in the case of employees who simply feel too bad to work and are better off taking care of themselves until they’re well enough to return. But telecommuting, as evidenced by the case of Commissioner Whitmire, can in some cases reduce the time it takes to return to work and can help prevent the spread of illness within an office environment, since despite advances in the clarity of video conferencing broadcasts it is still not possible to pass on germs online.
Even if an employee isn’t well enough to maintain their full responsibilities while at home, they can use a telecommuting link to keep the wheels of productivity in motion. Simple home office arrangements are now sophisticated enough to host professional-standard remote meetings, complete with file sharing, multimedia displays, and multiple endpoint attendance. With such a setup in place, a sick staff member could continue to attend key meetings and to converse regularly with team members, keeping important projects moving forward while recovering. This benefits both employers and employees, since it means that workers have less catching up to do when they return to the office.
If businesses are willing to embrace the use of video conferencing as a regular form of work, then there is even a case to be made that telecommuting increases the health of the workforce.
Telecommuting as a Healthier Lifestyle
Telecommuting can liberate us from the necessary compromises that surround the execution of our jobs. While we accept living and working in separate locations as part of a normal career, the duality of this existence can do us harm. For starters, the rigors of the daily commute have been established as one of the leading causes of stress in the workplace. Dealing with crowded public transport and congested roads really isn’t a healthy way to begin your day. And, of course, working in an office means it’s likely that colds and other illnesses will make the rounds.
Secondly, our workplace diets tend to favor easy-to-acquire foods that don’t offer the same nutritional value as the goods you’d consume at home when there’s a stocked fridge and fruit bowl within reach.
And finally, for many of us, working within a shared office space often means traveling to the unhealthy, perhaps polluted environs of a major city. Even if you’re lucky enough to spend your working hours within easy reach of a park or some other natural setting, how often do you find time during the day to leave the artificial air conditioning of the office?
All these factors can combine to increase stress and rates of illness, complications that cause workplace absences. Who knows, perhaps Commissioner Whitmire’s time video conferencing will convince him that it’s a better way to work.