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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

Negotiating for Flexibility at Work: Bosses Don’t Know the Facts About Telecommuting

Part 2 of a Series: They Don’t Know the Facts About Telecommuting

Despite some prominent examples of companies with progressive cultures when it comes to work-family balance (see this list for examples), most company cultures and supervisors are not particularly supportive, especially of dads trying to balance work and family.  It is brave to stand out and make a case for a time and place flexibility for your work.

“So, Peter, what’s happening? Ummm, I’m gonna have to ask you to come in this weekend… That’s great. okay?”

Like any request or negotiation, the key is to see the situation from the other person’s side and then communicate so that you dispel most of their concerns and show them how they benefit from the arrangement (a la Fisher & Ury’s “Getting to Yes” or Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”).  The first step is anticipating why your supervisor may say no and proactively address these concerns.

About a week ago, I wrote about one major reason why supervisors may resist flexible work arrangements- they may believe they’ll lose the ability to monitor and assess your performance, and how we can address this concern.

In this article, I’ll discuss a second major reason why supervisors may resist more flexible work arrangements- They don’t know enough about the benefits of telecommuting and just how common it is becoming.  If you want to work out a flexible work arrangement with your supervisor, you may need to educate him/her on telecommuting.  Here’s some information to help you do so.

The most definitive study on the effects of telecommuting, which involved over 46 organizations and 12,500 employees, (see source below) finds that part-time telecommuting results in:

  1. Higher employee job satisfaction and organizational commitment

  2. Slightly higher levels of employee performance (All the accumulated evidence shows that, for appropriate jobs, partial telecommuting at worst is performance-neutral, and many studies demonstrate moderate performance gains)

  3. Lowered employee turnover intentions, employee stress and work-family conflict

  4. No evidence on harming workplace relationships for those who telecommute fewer than 2.5 days a week.

Additionally, others have found:

  1. Reducing turnover can be a major cost savings.  HR professionals estimate that replacing a quality professional costs up to two times their annual salary.  This means that, if telecommuting keeps just one $80,000 employee from quitting, the company has saved up to $160,000.  In addition, telecommuters are less likely to be absent from work

  2. Significant cost savings to employees in terms of lowering driving, tolls, and commuting costs (and reduced greenhouse gas emissions!)

  3. Potential cost savings to employers in terms of office space utilization and lowered utility bills

  4. Those who telecommute are better able to continue to work productively during emergency situations (e.g., Hurricane Sandy) than those who are not set up for such work

  5. Telecommuting can help attract better employees – It is an important consideration for high-quality job seekers choosing among employment options, especially for Generations X and Y

  6. Telecommuting can help retain better employees- It has been called the best non-financial perk for doing so.  One website estimates that 36% would choose working from home over a pay raise

  7. Today, telecommuting has virtually no costs for the employer- almost everyone has a home computer/laptop and smart-phone already

In short, telecommuting costs an employer virtually nothing (except for a leap of faith) and can result in significant benefits for employers and employees.  Many managers may be unaware of these benefits or may perceive that telecommuting is disruptive and risky.  Our job is to convince them that the benefits far outweigh any concerns they may have.

Further, many managers are risk-averse and are reluctant to try new things for fear they will expose themselves to criticism.  We also need to show our managers that telecommuting is increasingly common.  Some statistics to back this up:

  1. 84 of the Fortune 100 companies allow extensive use of telecommuting.  Over 20% of employees at such companies as SC Johnson, Qualcomm, Booz Allen, Fidelity, Cisco and Goldman Sachs telecommute.  If they can allow for telecommuting, why can’t your company?

  2. While it is difficult to estimate the total percentage of the US workforce that telecommutes part-time (as opposed to full-time telework), the best estimate I could find is that 2.6% of employees are regular telecommuters.  This seems low, but includes all job categories- obviously waiters, welders and weathermen have a rate of 0%, bringing down the average.  Other studies state that over 13 million employees work from home more than one day a month and that 30% of employers allow at least some employees to telecommute.

The statistics aren’t terribly precise, but the numbers could convince your manager that they are not wading into the unknown if they consider allowing you to telecommute.

This data, along with the process I recommended in my last post, may help you make a convincing case for an alternative work arrangement.

What are your thoughts on telecommuting and making the business case for it?  Let’s discuss in the comments section.

The major sources for this article are:

  1. The Work-Family Researchers Network summarized key facts and finding about telecommuting in one simple one-page document

  2. Professors Gajendran and Harrison from Penn State University conducted a definitive study on the effects of telecommuting:

  3. Levine & Pittinsky wrote “Working Fathers“, a great book with advice on how to approach supervisors with requests for alternate work arrangements

Other good sources:

  1. Further, there are several companies and consultants listed in the “Fatherhood Resources” section of this blog who help employees make these requests.    

This article was republished at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine.  Follow this link to the article.

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