One of the benefits often associated with high-speed internet and the NBN is the opportunity for businesses to adopt teleworking. On the surface, the idea sounds fantastic — working from home, conducting meetings over Skype, reducing commuter travel, employing the right skills from outside your geographic area and so on.
This trend, also known as telecommuting, provides far greater flexibility for businesses and employees to work in more productive, cost-efficient and convenient ways. This doesn't mean, however, that telecommuting is perfect for everyone. Someone still has to staff the office, right? Not every business can operate exclusively from spare bedrooms, coffee shops and Mediterranean beaches, right?
If you're wondering whether your business can benefit from teleworking, consider the following.
There's no 'I' in team?
Sure, everyone can still talk to each other. Conference calls and video conferencing mean no one needs to be in the same room anymore for a productive meeting to occur. However, a good team needs to build relationships beyond just productive discussion. Is it necessarily a good thing for your employees to never meet face to face? Do you unwittingly eliminate all those great ideas that happen by chance around the office while making coffee or having lunch when people just start talking and sharing together?
A lack of any social interaction between team members can reduce their effectiveness as a team. There's a reason businesses use team-building days, office drinks and other social occasions to create social interactions, trust and relationships that foster greater collaboration, creativity and engagement. Make sure any teleworking program doesn't detract from the community and social qualities of a healthy office team.
More distractions, less focus
Working from home can bring a very different set of distractions to the working day. Children and pets can interrupt. Domestic matters can intrude, such as the postman, neighbours and pulling in the washing from the line when it rains. It can be tempting to carry out those errands and appointments that are easier during business hours, such as getting the car serviced.
It is increasingly common for people working from home to eventually decide they actually need that discipline and separation from domestic matters that comes from working in an office. This is why co-working spaces are becoming more popular, allowing people to rent a desk in a shared office space close to home, reducing distractions and accessing better facilities, while still avoiding the much longer commute.
For the employee, less commuting is a great saving for them. What about for the business? Sometimes, working remotely can make it easier for a business to expand into new territories. Someone working on the ground and using the internet to stay connected to the office reduces on extensive travel costs the business may otherwise need to pay. Plus, the office frees up space. Fewer people in the office may mean fewer facilities required, saving on rent, power and more.
Of course, this is only practical if the teleworking employee never comes to the office. If the employee has a workspace at home AND in the office, with a computer, internet connection and more at each location, the business is now footing the bill on underused or duplicated facilities. So, weigh up any potential savings or business opportunities against any increased cost to the business.
Have a clear reason
Naturally, there are many other benefits that can negate these increased costs or challenges, such as retaining talented and skilled employees, time shifting work to different countries and time zones for improved productivity and so forth.
It is very important to understand these reasons, and which applies to your particular situation, before agreeing to an employee request for teleworking. Make sure any decision to adopt teleworking has a clear business goal to reward your investment, and isn't merely because someone prefers to work remotely.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Jonathan has worked within, and written about, the technology industry for many years. Before going freelance as a writer in 2012, Jonathan had worked for Netregistry (web hosting) and Ninefold (cloud computing). Jonathan has won awards for his articles on online business for Nett Magazine and his over-opinionated blog Atomik Soapbox. He continues to write for Chief Content Officer magazine.