Telecommuting was once a rarity, now a necessity.

The spread of COVID-19 has forced traditional brick-and-mortar businesses to move to a telecommuting structure in order to maintain business continuity. Although working from home is not a new concept, for many teams and companies it’s a first-time experience.

Unfortunately, there’s no time for mock drills when it comes to telecommuting. The only way is through. That being said, every first-time experience doesn’t need to be a bad one. The right information can help you become a telecommuting star.

But first, what is telecommuting?

What Is Telecommuting?

Telecommuting (also known as teleworking) is an arrangement by which employers allow employees to work outside the business’s brick-and-mortar location. It involves the pervasive use of technology like Microsoft Outlook and Gmail for emails, Teams for messaging and communication between employers and colleagues as well as for holding video conferences, and more.

The unprecedented spike in telecommuting has given rise to some interesting trends:

Like it or hate it, telecommuting is here to stay

Pre-COVID, 44 percent of businesses globally didn’t allow remote work. Today, 30 percent of all workforces worldwide will telecommute at least a couple of times a week for the foreseeable future. [OWL Labs, PR Newswire]

Remote work is good for business

Businesses that adopted telecommuting before the pandemic saw great results:

  • 85% of businesses confirm that productivity has increased in their company because of greater flexibility. [Flexjobs]
  • $11,000: The average amount a business saves per remote employee. [Internet & Telephone]

Telecommuting is healthier

There’s a clear relation between telecommuting and overall health:

  • 86% of employees think remote working would reduce their stress. [Work-Life-Relationship survey]
  • 90% of employees say allowing more flexible work arrangements and schedules would increase employee morale. [Flexjobs]
  • 50% of remote employees reduced their sick days, and 56% said it reduced their absences. [Indeed]

Telecommuting: The Good and the Bad

Good Bad

Employees have more flexibility to balance work and personal obligations, such as taking care of children, cooking, etc. The line between work time and personal time blurs when employees are unable to set clear boundaries between them.
Complete freedom to follow any workstyle with no office distractions like office gossip, long hours of commuting, loud colleagues, ad-hoc meetings, to name a few. Telecommuting may involve personal distractions like children, pets, other people, roommates, etc. that may hurt productivity.
A desktop/laptop, a Wi-Fi connection and a phone service are all an employee requires, which drastically reduces the cost of renting physical office space and other office costs (stationary and free snacks), and also reduces the environmental cost of commuting (car fumes, noise pollution caused by excessive honking). Telecommunication is a hotbed for poor communication. Relying solely on technology to communicate can be challenging, irrespective of how advanced the tech is. Employees could miss out on important information when understanding and undertaking a project, potentially disrupting business returns on a fundamental level.
Happy employees translate to higher retention rates. Telecommuting brings about a level of satisfaction since it empowers employees to take control of their work environment. Telecommuting creates a feeling of isolation since the opportunity for bonding and social engagement is curtailed. These feelings can spiral into negative thoughts and depression.

Tips for Telecommuting

The unexpected wave of telecommuting has hit everyone hard. Employees are trying to find ways to be productive in a stressful environment, and employers want to ensure the well-being of their employees without having to compromise on business continuity. Here are a few practical tips for employers and employees to ride the wave of telecommuting like pros.

Telecommuting tips for employers

  1. Implement a pandemic-specific telecommuting policy: The U.S. Department of Labor states that you may either encourage or require employees to telecommute as an infection-control or prevention strategy. It’s a good time to get your HR team and employees to develop a pandemic-specific telecommuting policy. The policy should establish rules regarding work hours, work conditions, job duties and employer’s right to revoke permission to work remotely. These protocols will serve not only the business but employees as well.
  2. Ensure the workforce is ‘work from home’ ready: For smooth telecommuting, have the IT infrastructure and hardware in place. Take stock of the equipment employees would need, such as laptops, desktops, phones, printers and other office supplies. It’s also important to have the right cloud-based tools in place for sending emails, file sharing, making video calls, to name a few.
  3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate: Talk, write, chat – whatever it takes to get the information across. Use emails to document tasks and communicate on what everyone is working on. But don’t stop there! Communicate to engage employees. Many of them might feel isolated, anxious, or even depressed. Use technology to build social camaraderie and make connections at a personal level.

Telecommuting tips for employees

  1. Mirror your office schedule: Schedule specific tasks at certain times as you would normally do during regular office hours. This creates relatable psychological structures that avoid the two biggest threats to amateur telecommuters — complacency and procrastination.
  2. Eat the alien first: That means, start your day by working on the hardest task. Once the tough part is dealt with, the rest will fall in place. It’s like a chain reaction where one event sets off a series of similar events, aka the domino effect.
  3. Better ergonomics: Design a workstation that reduces physical or mental strain. For instance, there’s a direct relationship between productivity and the comfort of your chair. The continuous readjustment of your back is enough reason for frustration, affecting the quality of your work.
  4. Stay connected: Mental health is important for maintaining productivity and general well-being. Reach out to friends, family, work buddies and anyone you care for. Connections are the key to keeping a positive outlook during such turbulent times.

Moving Forward: Telecommuting and Data Protection

During the COVID-19 crisis, organizations are relying on SaaS applications like G Suite, Office 365 and Salesforce to help dispersed employees work as a united workforce. Unfortunately, hackers never let a good crisis go to waste.

The meteoric rise in the number of first-time telecommuters around the globe is a golden opportunity for hackers to target amateurs – who put data at risk, whether intentionally or not. And as we all know, platforms like Google, Microsoft and Salesforce do not protect data at the users’ end. In short, you are responsible for your SaaS data.