What Is Telecommuting?

Many working at computer and talking on phone

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Telecommuting—also known as working from home (WFH), working remotely, or e-commuting—is a work arrangement in which the employee works outside the office. Often this means working from home or at a location close to home, such as coffee shops, libraries, or co-working spaces. 

How Telecommuting Works

Rather than traveling to the office, the employee “travels” via telecommunication links, keeping in touch with coworkers and employers via telephone, online chat programs, video meetings, and email.

The worker may occasionally enter the office to attend meetings in-person and touch base with the employer.

However, with many options for distance conferencing, there may be no need to visit the office.

Who Telecommutes?

The short answer: Many, many people telecommute to work. 

Between the years 2005 and 2017, the number of people telecommuting grew by 159 percent, according to a report from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics. Per this report, 4.7 million people in the U.S. telecommute, and 3.4% of the country's workforce are remote employees. 

The reasons for this growth are clear: For office workers, technology (such as Slack, video meetings, and so on) has made working from home easier. For workers with access to WiFi, communications are virtually seamless. 

Some employees telecommute full-time, while others may work remotely for part of the week and go into the office for the remainder of the week. 

Benefits of Telecommuting

There are many benefits to telecommuting. Telecommuting gives workers greater freedom over their work hours and work location. It gives the employee more flexibility to balance work and personal obligations, such as school pick-up or caring for an ill family member. 

Often, working from home can make you more productive because you do not have the distractions of an office space.

Reduced commute time can also be beneficial, particularly for employees who would otherwise have to travel for hours to get to an office. Plus, eliminating a commute can often be a savings. 

There are also many benefits to employers. Allowing workers to telecommute often makes them more productive, which benefits the company. Telecommuters are also likely to be happier in their jobs and are therefore more likely to stay with the company. Telecommuting even saves companies money in office expenses.

Drawbacks of Telecommuting

However, there can be downsides to working from home. You have to be extremely self-motivated or else you may get distracted easily. You also need to find a productive place to do work, such as a home office or coffee shop. 

Some people also find working from home to be a bit isolating because you are not around your coworkers. Routine meetings that use video chat can help alleviate this loneliness. 

When considering a telecommuting job, it is important to weigh these positives and negatives.

Jobs That Allow Telecommuting

Many industries—including sales, customer service, and marketing—offer telecommuting jobs. Many jobs in technology (including computer and software programming) can also be done via telecommuting.

Some medical professionals, including health claims analysts and even some radiologists, have begun to work from home.

Asking Your Employer About Telecommuting

You should come up with a strategic plan if you want to ask your employer if you can telecommute. First, decide what kind of schedule you have in mind. (Do you want to work from home full-time? Come into the office part-time?)

Then, be sure you can explain how your telecommuting would benefit the company. (Would it save the company money? Would you be able to increase productivity?)

If you are making the case for telecommuting, it's often helpful to frame it in terms of benefits to the employer. Plus, provide information on how you'll communicate with your colleagues. 

Finding a Telecommuting Job

There are steps you can take to finding a telecommuting job. You can look for jobs at companies known for hiring telecommuters or search job sites geared towards telecommuters. There you will be able to find more information on how to find a work-from-home position.

One thing to be careful of is job scams. Many scams promise applicants easy money from a work-from-home job, but these are almost always tricks for taking your money or your identity.

How to Telecommute Successfully 

 Many people find telecommuting challenging. Here are some tips to help make it easier to work remotely: 

  • Have a dedicated workspace: You may find that a nearby co-working space is helpful. Or you may opt to convert your spare bedroom into a workspace. Generally, it's best to avoid working on the couch or a comfy chair that you also sit in to watch TV. (It can make it a bit too tempting to turn on the TV and avoid work.) If you're on a lot of video meetings, you'll want to make sure your background looks somewhat professional. 
  • Have a start and stop time: Flexibility is a real benefit to working from home. Still, you'll likely want to create some structure. Even if you're not working 9 to 5, it's helpful to set aside hours that are reserved for work and hours that are work-free. Otherwise, you may find yourself forgetting to turn off your computer and working more hours than you should. 
  • Consider your outfit: If you are on a lot of video meetings, it's best to wear professional outfits. That way, you won't feel flustered if an unexpected meeting occurs. Plus, it'll put you in a state of mind that says "working," as opposed to "watching TV." Of course, comfy clothes are a major perk of working from home: Go ahead and put on your yoga pants if you don't have video meetings and can still work productively. 
  • Tell friends and family: You may be home rather than in an office, but you're still working. Be sure that friends and family understand that you are not free for unexpected meals or favors even though you may be at home. 
  • Communicate with your manager: Since your supervisor will no longer see you at your desk, you'll want to make sure you show in other ways that you're working and are an engaged employee. Be communicative on email and chat programs, and share completed projects. Make sure to have scheduled one-on-one meetings in which you review what you've completed and what you are working on with your supervisor, too.

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