Since the ’80s, telecommuting has been championed as a better way of working. The phenomenon, which has been somewhat slow to catch on, is called by many names: remote working, telecommuting, teleworking, web working and open working (to name a few), but it’s increasingly being adopted by companies all over the world. Globally, there will be a mammoth 46 million telecommuters by 2011, according to Gartner.
What’s happened to push web working into the mainstream enterprise? In part, its the recession. Companies are realizing that implementing flexible working policies can mean a reduction in real estate costs and overheads. But it’s not just the recession. With the explosion of high-speed broadband, mobile devices and online tools, the technology exists to actually make it happen for a large percentage of the workforce.
Why it’s catching on
Remote work brings many benefits, for both employees and employers. For workers, no commute means more time to indulge in out-of-work activities, hobbies and socializing. For parents, it means the ability to spend more time with the kids and also makes it easier to deal with school holidays. In a survey conducted by Citrix (which offers online video conferencing), 20 percent of U.S. workers said they’d take a 5 percent pay cut just to work from home one day a week. And a pay cut might not sting as bad as they think: Over time, the cost of a daily commute (gas, maintaining a vehicle, bus/train tickets) can really add up.
And for employers? Office space and parking are large fixed costs for most businesses — and they can be a millstone in these tough economic times. When employees work out of the office three or more days a week, companies can reduce the size of their office and the attendant costs, according to some research. Sun Microsystems, a huge company that’s setting an example in remote working by allowing more than half of its 40,000 employees to work remotely, saved a massive $68 million in real estate costs by implementing its open work program. With fewer staff in the office from day to day, overheads such as heating and power are reduced. (That can also benefit companies trying to shrink their carbon footprint.)