While we’ve seen growth in how many employees telecommute, this growth is likely set to continue to expand in dramatic fashion for several reasons that are all converging. Changes in technology, psychology, and the environment are going to spur more people to work at home on a more frequent basis in the coming years. Do not be surprised if we see a large shift towards telework sooner rather than later.
Significant improvements in online security, reduced cost of laptop/mobile technology, and the proliferation of cloud-based computing will enable telework to be conducted more efficiently.
Security has been a serious concern regarding telework in recent years. In some industries, sending personally identifiable information of clients to staff who work from home is simply not an option (thank goodness!), so we will not see major changes in these arenas. But any industry that deals with service products or has a heavy administrative function will benefit from the increased security protocols that are being implemented.
For example, Google recently rolled out 2-step verification. This means that even if your password is stolen, the likelihood of your personal email account being accessed is dramatically reduced since the thief would also need access to your second form of verification, such as your phone.
Another piece of the security puzzle is education. People are far more aware of suspicious emails and tell-tale signs of malware that may have installed itself. In fact, many large firms require security training. As employees are more aware of the risks and have the education to avoid exposing valuable data to theft, we will see more companies get more comfortable allowing telework to happen.
Reduced Costs of Laptop/Mobile
One word: Chromebook. This is just one example of the costs for quality computer hardware dropping in prices. As laptops continue to drop and migrate away from the traditional, expensive Windows operating systems, we will see more companies using laptops in their workforce, which in turn creates the opportunity for telework to be possible.
Mobile phones are another example and mean that employees can be connected even if they do not have an immediate Internet connection available. Even the iPhone has a non-jailbroken method for making the phone aWiFi hotspot. Android-based phones have had this capability for a long time.
Then there is the new wave: combining the mobile device with a laptop experience, such as the Motorola Atrix. All said, for less than the cost of a laptop, you can get a laptop and state-of-the-art mobile phone. While this is not ideal for everyone, small businesses who are struggling to get onto the telework bandwagon will find this lower cost point and added mobility a good reason to let employees work from home at least a few days out of the month.
Possibly more important than the shifts in technology are the shifts in thinking. One of the primrary reasons employees give for not excercising their telecommuting option is “job security.” When employees do not go into the office and have face-to-face meetings with their supervisors, they feel more likely to be given the axe.
“…employees are concerned that employers will perceive teleworkers negatively compared to peers who are in the office every day. Further, the high number of long-term unemployed creates a situation in which employers often are in a better negotiating position such that, to the extent one views telework as an accommodation for an employee or contractor, some reduction in telework is to be expected.” (WorldatWork, 2011)
As the economy is beginning to turn around in the U.S., we will see more people who are comfortable with the idea of seeing their boss less frequently. Do not underestimate the importance of this shift.
Even if firms were to offer telecommuting opportunities, if the employee is fearful of losing the edge to those who come in everyday, they will not take advantage of the programs.
No matter how big a change in technology, a change in psychology is needed, too.
Environmental Policy Shift
More organizations are seeing themselves as members of their communities who have a responsibility to protect the environment. Telecommuting is a practical way to save on time and fuel, reducing the carbon footprint an organization creates in a region.
Furthermore, large cities are putting pressure on large organizations to ease the environmental impact of their businesses on the community. One way that cities are doing this is to charge “city access fees, commuter taxes, carbon reporting, and environmental sanctions” (Lister and Harnish, 2011).
Lister and Harnish (2011) go on to explain that if 50 million workers were to telecommute half the time, the savings to the U.S. would be:
— 281 Million barrels of oil or 46% of Persian Gulf imports
— Reduced greenhouse gases to the tune of 51 million tons/year
— Reduced off-shoring of jobs
— Reduced road travel and associated injuries and wear on infrastructure
This change in perception is pushing firms to make telework a serious option. The economical realities of telework make it not only an option, but possibly a necessity if businesses are to remain competitive in our global economy.