What Telecommuting Can Do for Your Business

Studies show teleworkers are happier than others.
Studies show teleworkers are happier than others.
Telecommuting, which allows people to work collaboratively from different locations, offers a wealth of opportunities for small businesses, including cost savings and the ability to add specialized temporary workers quickly. Telepresence tools, such as videoconferencing, make telecommuting possible.

The U.S. government endorsed teleworking long before many companies in the private sector gave it a second thought. A growing number of businesses now thrive on remote workers, providing services via the Internet that range from writing to remote computer and network management. Here's why you should consider offering a telecommuting option to members of your team, too.

1. Your workers will be more productive. When they can work from home, they may face fewer distractions than at the office--and of course, they'll have a reduced commute time. Numerous academic studies and corporate surveys have shown that many teleworkers are happier and more productive than workers at headquarters. Some workers may need supervision, but you can accomplish this by setting production goals rather than by monitoring hours per day worked.

2. You'll be able to reach team members, regardless of their physical location. Telecommuting generally requires an Internet connection and appropriate software. Tools include remote-control applications, collaboration software, and videoconferencing software. It may be easier to reach team members via the Internet than by walking to their office. Remote control apps such as LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, and Splashtop Remote Desktop let users log in from home and control their work PCs. Collaboration software such as Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 allow users in different locations to share documents, files, presentations, and other data simultaneously. And videoconferencing software--such as Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, Citrix GoToMeeting, or the free, multiperson chat enabled by Google+ Hangouts--facilitates group meetings.

Telepresence tools abound in the cloud.
Telepresence tools abound in the cloud.
3. You'll conserve office space and save money. Remote workers furnish not only their own desk and PC, but also electricity, snacks, water, bathroom facilities, telecommunications bandwidth, phone service, and more. By reducing the number of workers at your office, you'll reduce office expenses. Even if you reimburse some costs, such as Internet connectivity or phone use, you’ll still save on the reduced square footage of office space you need and on utilities to support it.

4. You'll reduce IT management time and equipment costs. In general, remote workers provide their own connectivity and PC. Though you may need to provide and set up antivirus, collaboration, remote access, and other software, your overall costs should be much less than for managing the machines, the network, and the desktop software in-house. You will want to set standards, however, and perhaps implement compliance-checking software to ensure that devices that log in to your network aren't infected with a virus or vulnerable to attack because of unpatched software.

5. You'll be able to take advantage of distributed, cloud-based IT functions. Rather than hosting servers in your offices, you can take advantage of cloud applications that support telepresence. If your employees are dispersed across a large area, cloud applications may provide more-reliable service than your own servers would, since cloud vendors have multiple data centers and redundant connections to ensure connectivity. Of course, you'll need to investigate the available security and backup options of each service thoroughly before signing on.

Telepresence tools help you reach workers anywhere.
Telepresence tools help you reach workers anywhere.
6. Your organization will become more agile. If you set up the tools properly, telepresence can make your company more agile, while giving workers greater flexibility to meet project requirements. You can find and enlist contract workers quickly for specific projects.

7. Your workers will cost less. If your business is located in an expensive area such as San Francisco or New York City, telecommuters can save you a lot of money. They might live in Fargo, North Dakota--a city with a low cost of living and good Internet connectivity--and be satisfied with much lower salaries than people in big cities would expect. In addition, many workers are willing to accept a lower salary in exchange for telecommuting. Finally, if you hire workers as independent contractors, you'll save even more on payroll costs.

Telecommuting can save your company a substantial amount with few disadvantages, as long as you manage security carefully. The common notion that supervising remote workers is difficult may be the biggest bar to implementing telecommuting, but you can overcome this objection by looking at the bottom line.

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