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Memo to HR Managers: Be Innovative! Hire Telecommuters!

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/30/2011

What does the average human resources manager have to do to save a buck in this day and age? Have you considered incorporating telecommuting opportunities into your HR plan? Let’s take a look at some statistics and find out if all those people at home are really working.

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    Telecommuting--Are You Kidding Me?

    It’s time for human resource managers everywhere to embrace the latest trend, because, folks, it looks like it’s here to stay. I’m talking Home office with everything you need about hiring employees who telecommute—also known as teleworking, working from home, or employing a less positive parlance, phoning in the job. In a survey done by, the number of people who telecommute has doubled in the past four years.

    If you ponder that same four-year period, you’ll agree it holds significance for nothing so much as this huge sprawling recession that we can’t seem to escape. And we are caught up in a veritable Catch 22: Companies cannot hire people to produce more goods and services if there aren’t people out there to buy them, and people can’t buy more goods and services if they don’t have jobs.

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    Think About It: Using Fewer Employees

    How can you get more work from fewer employees? How can you reduce your payroll and benefits budgets? HR managers have got to come up with innovative ways to squeak out the figures demanded by the almighty Bee Oh Dee—and you and I know that the board members aren’t the ones losing sleep over how to budget HR costs for various new projects and ongoing programs. Increasing your telecommuting FTEs might be just the way to do it.

    The idea of hiring telecommuters seemed outlandish a decade ago, but the concept is something to get excited about. During our lives, we experience many innovations in products and services, but there are truly few that markedly change our lives within any given generational phase. We think of inventions like the automobile in the early 1900s or the television around 1950. The advent of the personal computer into our households in the 1990s falls into that category of remark. What comes to my mind is an image of a Ford Model T rolling down the road with Lucille Ball riding in the back seat, working at her laptop. And she’s Tweeting!

    That’s how much the concept of telecommuting can change our lives—permanently and forever. CareerBuilder surveyed 2,654 managers with hiring responsibility four years ago, when the recession bulldozed its way across our radar, and again this year. Consider these statistics:

    • In 2007, 4 percent of workers telecommuted full time—that’s five to seven days—and today that figure has risen to 6 percent.
    • In 2007, 8 percent of all workers telecommuted at least one day per week. Today that figure has risen to 10 percent—one out of 10 people!

    But what does that mean for you, the employer, in terms of productivity? In 2007, only 18 percent of telecommuters claimed to work a real eight-hour (or more) day. Today, 35 percent of those telecommuting believe that they put a full eight hours of work into their work day. The survey purports that 48 percent of all workers claim to put in a full eight-hour shift. Now, my math may not be as tricky as Dick's, but in my book that means 61 percent of people who work at company desks insist that they work a full eight-hour shift. (We’ll talk later about the other 39 percent.)

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    A Look at Workers' Productivity

    People who work on site confess to spending time chatting at the proverbial office cooler (if you can still afford one), trekking outdoors for a cigarette break, or just updating their Facebook status when they should be researching cheaper vendor options. Most employees will admit, when pressed, to working only 6 to 7.5 hours of the full day for which they are paid.

    Of course, many people insist albeit inaccurately that they work more than eight hours. According to Schurenberg’s Memo on Bnet’s Moneywatch, people exaggerate the number of hours they work not just to impress others but also to scare off anyone who might be thinking of going after their job. Once they begin to believe the tales of their own worth, they tell themselves they deserve lots of extra little breaks—because they’re working so-oh-oh hard.

    Hard at Work What about the people who work at home? According to CareerBuilder, 29 percent of telecommuters insist they are more productive working from home than on site. With another 34 percent claiming to be equally productive in either venue, that leaves 37 percent who actually admit they are less productive while working at home. In fact, 41 percent of female telecommuters wear their pajamas while telecommuting, compared to 22 percent of male workers. You’d better ix-nay the video conference with that swell new client if you’re not sure what your networked associates will be wearing.

    I stumbled across a short but interesting thread on the subject of productivity on Amazon’s amazing Askville. One respondent described the time he had outpatient surgery and came up with an idea to solve a perplexing company problem while he was still in a “twilight" state. So, wasn’t his time in surgery billable as time actually worked?

    Don't let kids stop you! 

    Besides anesthesia and surgery, what are other activities that interfere with the productivity of off-site workers? CareerBuilder says the biggest distraction for the telecommuter is the call of household chores—31 percent of people stop working because they answer a call to the kitchen—to do dishes or take out the trash, I guess.

    The next biggest distraction is the television at 25 percent. Even I, hard worker extraordinaire, confess to one bedeviled writer’s block day when I trekked to my sister’s house and watched Judge Judy from her swimming pool (actually in the water) sipping an iced tea. Surprisingly, children pose the smallest distraction, at 15 percent. At least it’s good to know, if we pay people to work from home, 85 percent of them have figured out what to do with the kids.

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    Benefits for All

    According to a survey by The Benchmark Exchange—you have to take the survey to see all the results—70 percent of telecommuters enjoy a better quality of life and 37 percent believe there is a marked improvement in the quality of the work they turn in. They enjoy benefits such as a more flexible work schedule, less time spent on the daily drive, increased productivity, and a better morale.

    Illness Is No Excuse! 

    Employers report benefits such as less absenteeism—many people who feel too sick to show up at the office don’t mind working from home on their computers. And if they’re at home, they’re not spreading their germs in the office. Employers also realize improved continuity in operations, and they see better morale among workers. There is less employee turnover. They use less office space and resources. Employers who hire telecommuters also have a wider applicant pool because they can interview people who live farther away from the office.

    Telcoa—the Telework Coalition—organized in 2002 with the intent of utilizing the Information Super Highway to ease the congestion of our cities’ gridlocked highways—further reports that employers can save as much as $20,000 per full-time technology professional. According to a survey, one-third of respondents report they will consider a pay cut of up to 10 percent for the option to work from home. This survey also cites savings from use of less office space and fewer resources. There is also the afore-mentioned increased employee retention and improved morale, which translates to company loyalty and increased productivity.

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    Change Is Coming

    Maybe it’s time to bring change into your offices. The 1980s brought us the movie 9 to 5, with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda stringing up their boss because (among his many other sins) he wouldn’t allow flextime. Those days are gone. If you’ve always regarded telecommuting as a tenuous option at best, give it some thought. Telecommuting might just be one of those processes that, traffic, drouu come along once in a generation to change the way we live and work. It will not only free up highways and reduce gas emissions—it might just offer cheaper ways to get more work done while simultaneously making workers happier.

    When all is said and done, I couldn’t help but notice how similar two of the above statistics came out to be:

    • 37 percent of telecommuters said they are less productive.
    • 39 percent of on-site workers said they do not work their full eight-hour day.

    Kind of neat how those figures back each other up, isn’t it? For the HR manager, that translates into 37 to 39 percent of employees who are less productive than they should be—the ones who just phone in their jobs, so to speak. We leave it to you to figure out how to target them and redirect their behaviors.

    Have you integrated telecommuters into your employee pool? I’d love to hear your comments about how your company is assimilating this trend. If you use telecommuting, what industry do you manage? How are you motivating both types of employees, and have you found ways to manage workers who shirk the time clock? This telecommuting trend once seemed outrageous, but I can't wait to see next year's statistics.