by Lisa Thompson

With today's technology, telecommuting—or "telework" as it's sometimes called—is easier than ever. According to U.S. Telecommuting Forecast 2009 to 2016 (.pdf), more than 34.5 million adult U.S. workers telecommuted in 2008. By 2016, the forecast estimates this number will increase to 63 million. But working from home isn't right for everyone or suitable for every job.


If you are considering telecommuting, keep in mind that few people telecommute full time. You should still expect to be in the office at least two or three days a week. And few telecommuting jobs begin that way so don't expect to start a new job and switch to telecommuting immediately.


The Benefits

While telecommuting clearly benefits the employee by offering flexibility and reducing commuting time and cost (and their carbon footprint), it can also benefit the employer in a number of ways by: 


  • reducing office space and energy (heating, cooling, electricity, etc.) expenses
  • increasing staff levels with lower overhead costs
  • expanding talent pool beyond local workforce
  • improving employee morale
  • reducing turnover and absenteeism
  • increasing productivity
  • reducing the spread of illness


Telecommuting can also be used to accommodate workers with disabilities.


Employer Policies

Many employers already have a telecommuting policy in place. If you aren't aware of one at your employer, check with human resources department or review your employee manual. If you’re interviewing for a new job, be sure to ask if the company allows telecommuting or flexible work options.


If there is no official policy and you'd like to see one implemented, do your research. The Internet is a good place to start to learn the ins and outs and the pros and cons. Find out what other companies may be doing. Once you have all your facts, compile and present a draft policy to your employer or boss. Be as detailed as possible and make sure you clearly illustrate how it would benefit your employer, not just you and your coworkers. Employers that already allow flexible work options may be more open to telecommuting.


The Effective Telecommuter

Even if your employer allows telecommuting and the nature of your job makes it feasible, it isn't ideal for everyone. Telecommuting works best for those who:


  • Are self-disciplined
  • Are self-starters
  • Are organized
  • Are dependable
  • Can work independently
  • Require little or no supervision
  • Have effective communication skills
  • Have good time-management skills


These contribute to increased productivity, reduced stress, and a better work-life balance. You don't need all these qualities to succeed when working from home, but those without them may be easily distracted, feel isolated from their coworkers, and prone to workaholism when there is no clear boundary between work and their personal time.


It's also helpful to have a dedicated home office space, especially one with a door. This will help cut down on distractions and keep you on task. Make sure you have comfortable furniture. If it’s not, you may find it hard to concentrate.


Still not sure if telecommuting right for you? Take an assessment to find out if it’s a good fit. Also check out how to have a career that lets you work from home.