For years, it’s seemed as though the telecommuting revolution has been just around the corner. The truth is, many people are making telecommutes work today, and the technology for telecommuting’s widespread adoption does exist. But there are some powerful social factors holding it back.
Probably the strongest hurdle telecommuting has to face is the micromanaging supervisor. Some in middle management feel it necessary to watch their subordinates like a hawk – and while there certainly are employees who need to be closely managed, micromanagement is rarely the best managerial strategy. Already, corporations are outsourcing business processes to cut costs; as outsourcing gains traction, resistance to telecommuting should get weaker and weaker.
Another reason for the slow adoption of telecommuting is the nearly universal assumption that good workers leave their homes every weekday morning to commute to work. For many people, the commute will remain a part of daily life. But as businesses look for ways to scale back costs, the obvious savings in building space, computer equipment and custodial services that come with telecommuting are impossible to ignore. And as the corporate world finally embraces telecommuting out of necessity, smaller businesses will likely follow suit. The Industrial Revolution transformed our habits and our assumptions about how “normal” people earned a living – but the ongoing Digital Revolution will almost certainly do the same.
Maintaining group cohesion and cooperation is a serious concern, but one that technology has gone a long way to overcoming. Wireless communications make it easy to work from anywhere. File-sharing sites like Google Docs can ensure that everyone is literally working off the same page. Firewalls are not just for servers these days and software from companies like Symantec and Webroot can keep home desktops and roving laptops safe. A virtual PBX with flexible but robust hunting rules allows a firm to route customers to the person they need to talk to, even if that person isn’t in some central office. And when workers really need face-to-face time, teleconferencing software with webcams can put everyone at the conference table.
Even for those who enjoy the “water cooler culture,” telecommuting is getting easier. In addition to the ubiquitous coffee shops and cafes that already cater to the lounge-chair business types, we’ve begun to see virtual office centers – locations where one can rent a single office or conference room by the hour. Not only do these allow you to get out of the house and keep business and family life separate, but they also give you far greater flexibility in choosing who you see every day. Can’t get along with the guy in the next office over? Just rent a different office or move to a new building entirely.
The forces moving us toward telecommuting seem to grow stronger every day. For employees, it’s the need for flexible schedules that better allow juggling work with family and worsening traffic which aggravates every commuter. For businesses, telecommuting promises greater control over expenses and happier employees who are more focused on delivering results. The technology is there and the will is growing. Telecommuting is a trend whose time has come.