For most of us, when we think about the many ways information technology has transformed our lives, the first thing that comes to mind is the Internet and the devices we use to access it—the laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets that are usually within easy reach. From the wealth of information we now have at our fingertips, to the rise of email, texting, and social media, technology has transformed how we obtain and disseminate information and how we interact with each other, not only at home, but at the office, as well.
Excluding the very early years of office communication technology (think telephone switchboards), one of the biggest workplace transformations came about with the creation of the personal desktop computer and software tools like Microsoft Office. First released in 1990, it made many day-to-day business tasks like word processing and working with spreadsheets far faster and easier. Few of us can imagine what life would be like if we were still using typewriters and adding machines.
Today’s workers want options
Since then, technology has continued to evolve from the original stand-alone applications to server- and cloud-based software, and with those advances has come a new wave of change: the explosion in telecommuting or telework. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, close to half (43%), of employees in the US now work remotely to some degree, but many more want to sever the shackles—or at least loosen them a bit.
Global Workplace Analytics, which studies telecommuting and workplace flexibility points to research showing that 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time. Here at home, the non-profit WORKshift Canada, which helps organizations implement telework policies, cites research showing that 60% of employees are making job choices based on whether (or not) the employer offers flexible work programs. Given that millennials, in particular, are looking for work–life balance, employers that offer telecommuting options are finding they have a distinct competitive advantage.
Flexible is better for employers, too
But what employers are quickly realizing is that employees are not the only ones who benefit when a company offers workplace flexibility. A quick online search finds numerous success stories and statistics showing that not only does increasing the number of teleworking employees help companies cut real estate costs—the most obvious benefit—it also makes it easier for them to attract and keep employees. The biggest surprise for skeptical employers is the positive impact that telework can have on productivity. One study by sociologists at the University of Iowa and University of Texas, for example, found that employees who telecommute actually work longer hours than their peers who never work from home.
Technology is key
Most telework-enabling technology includes cloud computing and SaaS (service as a software), which gives employees easy, remote access to the software they need no matter where they are; VPNs or virtual private networks that provide secure access to company servers; electronic document management capability (e.g., central remote-access document repositories); and phone systems that offer seamless call forwarding, audio and video conferencing, and other team-unifying communication tools.
One thing we do know is that the costs of work–life conflict is high: WORKshift Canada estimates it costs Canadian companies between $5.5 and $10.5 billion a year. According to one survey of American and Canadian employees, 53% report being stressed by work–life imbalance, an alarming number that leads to high levels of illness, absenteeism, presenteeism (working while sick or disengaged), and increased turnover, all of which have a huge impact on the bottom line.
Turns out that having balanced employees means a healthier balance sheet, too.