With the prevalence of sophisticated mobile devices today, and the almost ubiquitous availability of WiFi — even on airplanes now— we can almost always be connected to each other and to our jobs.
I, for one, enjoy the freedom that our mobile devices offer: the ability to keep in touch with people while traveling; to be able to join in meetings from almost any location; and to generally not be dependent on location in order to work and communicate. But even in writing that last sentence, I am aware of some irony in describing this phenomenon as “freeing,” because sometimes, the ability to always be connected brings with it the expectation to always be connected. When one travels for work, for example, it is quite common these days to spend the days at whatever tasks you are traveling for, and the evenings catching up on the usual job tasks. Our “downtime” no longer comes simply from leaving the office environment — we have to plan it.
Working remotely, whether part or full time, has gained momentum in recent years. A report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM; www.shrm.org) on “2016 Employee Benefits Survey” 1 says that 60% of organizations in the U.S. allow their employees to telecommute. This is a threefold increase over 20 years ago — in 1996, only 20% of organizations reportedly allowed telecommuting. Of course, in that span of time, technology in mobile communications has advanced tremendously, making working from remote offices more feasible. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS; www.bls.gov) “American Time Use Survey” 2 indicate that in 2015, 35% of workers in professional and related occupations and 38% of those in management, business and financial operations, did some or all of their work from home. Some jobs obviously cannot be done remotely, but for those that can, the decision to do so brings about a number of changes from the “traditional” workplace.
Advantages and challenges
A few of the pros of working from remote locations include: the ability of a company to hire and retain talented employees from a wider geographical pool; greater satisfaction from employees who want a better work/life balance; and the ability to keep operations going when an office may be closed due to extreme circumstances (as happened to our own offices during Superstorm Sandy). Some of the challenges include: potential feelings of isolation of employees; creating boundaries between home and work time; and effective communication.
Telecommuting is not for everyone. Those who are likely to be most comfortable and successful with it are employees who have reached a certain level of competency in their jobs, and who are self-starters with self discipline. Pro-active communication is key. Emails are effective and very convenient for day-to-day correspondence, particularly when working across time zones. Periodic phone calls and virtual meetings can facilitate communication and help to alleviate possible feelings of isolation. And, occasional meetings in-person are a great way to help develop team spirit and to have some of the “water cooler” type exchanges that may be otherwise missing. ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief