Benefits & Compensation News

Why companies are scared of telecommuting

For many employees, telecommuting and flex-time are highly desired work-life benefits. But a growing number of organizations are reluctant to offer these programs.

Demand for these benefits remains high.  One study found that 87% of job applicants are familiar with the idea behind telecommuting and flex-time, and the majority express a desire to have at least periodic access to such programs.

Environmental interest groups have pushed the feds for years to create incentives for employers to encourage telecommuting. The pressure has risen as gas prices have continued to soar.

Nevertheless, flex-time programs have leveled off in some sectors, and there’s been a decrease in telecommuting.

Today, about half of all organizations where telecommuting is feasible permit employees to work from home on a case-by-case basis. But the percentage of employers offering full-time telecommuting has dropped in recent years.  Nowadays, only about 20% to 25% of employers offer the benefit year-round.

Even some national employers that are well-known for their telecommuting programs have scaled back. AT&T, for example, recently asked a few thousand home-based workers to come back into the office. Hewlett-Packard and Intel have done the same thing.  And the federal government recently noted a 7.3% drop in telecommuting employees. Why the cutbacks?

Pros and cons

Offering employees telecommuting or flex-time can be a good recruiting and morale-boosting tool, as well as a way to retain employees who need to relocate, would otherwise have a need to quit or take leave or commute long distances to work.

But the programs are not without their drawbacks. Some of the main reasons employers give for scaling back or eliminating them:

  • Company culture – It’s easier to build a sense of organizational stability and a personal connection between employees, co-workers and supervisors when people interact face-to-face on a daily basis.
  • Security – One of the hidden costs of allowing employees to telecommute (or else come in early or stay late) is keeping sensistive information safe. Some the cutbacks are being driven by companies’ IT departments. Specifically, managers have raised concerns about stolen laptops, identity theft or other crimes driven by hackers gaining access to information via workers’ home Internet connections.
  • Productivity – Many supervisors find it easier to ensure high productivity when everyone is working under one roof at the same time.  There’s also a widespread view that most employees get things done faster and more accurately when they’re not distracted by things at home.

The bottom line on the bottom line

Work-life programs such as flex-time and telecommuting remain a useful benefit to offer employees, and a lot of companies still provide these benefits for economic reasons. But once the potential hidden costs are weighed, it’s often better for the bottom line to limit the scope of these programs.

Organizations that are thinking about starting a telecommuting program should look closely at job descriptions and telecommuting candidates. Some positions are poorly suited for remote work, and some employees are more up to the challenge than others.

But unless the organization creates objective criteria for allowing or denying flex/telecommuting requests, such programs can actually damage morale. The last thing any employer wants is to open supervisors(and the company) up to accustations of favoritism or discrimination because of seemingly random decisions on which workers in their department can and can’t flex their schedules or work from home.

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