We can work here, there and just about everywhere these days, thanks to modern technology. But what if some of this freedom was actually a burden?
That seems to be the implication of some recent research published in the scientific journal, Social Forces. The study’s publishers, Jennifer L. Glass and Marcy C. Noonan, studied the effects of telecommuting on earnings between 1989 and 2008 and came to the following conclusion:
“Rather than enhancing true flexibility in when and where employees work, the capacity to work from home mostly extends the workday and encroaches into what was formerly home and family time.”
If you’re thinking that’s precisely the opposite of what telecommuting is supposed to accomplish, you’d be right. Technology should be making our personal lives easier to extricate from our professional lives – not harder. But that doesn’t seem to always be the case.
By keeping in mind just a few key ideas, you can improve the telecommuting experience while at the same time realizing important benefits for your company.
1. Don’t Push It
Maybe the most important thing employers need to hear, in the light of these recent realizations, is that pushing your employees to extend their working hours – whether in the office or at home – is largely unnecessary and quite often inappropriate.
As an employee yourself, you may have been asked to emulate one of your coworkers who spends an extra hour or two in the office each day. They likely have their own reasons for doing so, but it doesn’t mean that has to be the new normal for everybody else.
As a result of this push for a longer and longer work week, employees who do more telecommuting than others might feel undue pressure to “make their presence known” the way their office-based employees do. This likely accounts for at least some of the findings in Glass’ and Noonan’s study: Even today, telecommuting has a kind of unofficial stigma attached to it, which employees feel they need to remedy with longer hours.
2. Look For Pay Gaps
Another type of burden frequently felt by workers who telecommute is the pay gap problem. More specifically, this is a situation where remote workers are paid less than their in-office compatriots for the same work.
At first glance, this kind of discrepancy might feel forgivable – after all, employees to commute physically have to rise earlier and brave traffic to reach the office. But remote working requires plenty of its own sacrifices and expenses, and it requires many of the same tools and furnishings: a clean and ordered place to work, including a computer, phone, desk and office chair – plus some additional items, like VPN software for retrieving company assets and messaging services for keeping in touch with home base.
There is, after all, a reason why remote workers and the self-employed can write off expenses like home office purchases and utility payments. Expenses like these are, in many cases, less of a burden for people who work outside the home, on premises furnished and maintained by their employer.
The point is, if making a switch to telecommuting hasn’t changed the amount or type of work you’re expected to do, we ought to merely recognize it as a slightly different lifestyle, with some similarities and some differences, but identical expectations when it comes to compensation.
3. Establish Clear Work-Hour Expectations
Workers in France enjoyed a surprise victory late last year when legislation was passed making it easier for them to “unplug” from the workplace. This “right to disconnect” officially asserts employees’ rights to check work email only on company time, and on company property. Can they check it at other times if they wish to do so? Of course they can. But the point is they can’t be expected to blur the line between their career and their lives at home with their families.
You can insert a joke here about the work ethic in France, like any number of unimaginative comedians, but even with their generous vacation policies and now this new slate of workers’ rights, French workers easily rank among the most productive in the world. It seems they’ve earned this modest respite.
But we’re talking about American telecommuters here. So consider what might happen without those kinds of healthy boundaries. Remote workers have access to their work assets – phone, computer, etc. – all day long, including long after their office-based counterparts have gone home for the day. Whether or not there are formal expectations that they remain in touch, there’s an unconscious expectation lingering there.
As an employer yourself, take care to delineate the work day for your remote workers with the same care you spend developing schedules for your in-house employees. The eight-hour workday is standard-issue for a reason, so make sure your telecommuters aren’t being encouraged – either tacitly or directly – to overrun that important cutoff.
Remember The Benefits
As a final point, remain mindful of the many benefits of remote working, for both the company and employees. Telecommuters are happier and more productive, and the company enjoys monetary savings throughout the year for each employee based in a home office.
So, make sure your employees can pursue this option if it’s something that works well for them, and do your best to remove some of the pain points above. You might be surprised and delighted by the results.
This article was written by William Craig from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.