The future of work is not in a cubicle

The future of work is not in a cubicle
Graphic: Chad Asuncion
Graphic: Chad Asuncion

As the modern, mobile workforce continues to show an increased melding between one's professional and personal life, 60% of organizations utilize virtual workers in some capacity today -- and the forecast is 80% by 2013.

It's easy to see why.

With a virtual workforce, employers are cutting costs on real estate, office space and furnishings. Businesses with virtual workers report increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, plus overall satisfaction from employees – and customers.

Telework offers employers an easy, effective way to lower operating costs, increase profitability, expand business opportunities and reduce carbon footprint all at the same time.

Compensation cost savings from telecommuting for technology and knowledge-workers has enabled many U.S. businesses to bring back jobs that have been lost to foreign labor and off-shoring., a career hub for technical professionals, reported that more than one third of technology workers said they'd accept up to 10% less salary in exchange for "cloud commuting" full-time.  In a SHRM Survey Brief on the Green Workplace, 24% of employees say they would take a pay cup of up to 10% to help the environment.

With more telecommuting jobs in Hawaii, there would be less need for office buildings and parking lots to house workers and their vehicles, and fewer freeways needed to get from home to the office. This would reduce congestion in downtown areas, lower energy consumption in office buildings, and lower costs for public transportation and infrastructure.

Telework is an environmentally-friendly option that affords healthy benefits for both employers and employees.

The Telework Research Network finds telecommuting improves workers' overall health and sense of well being. Research shows employees who work at home take less sick time than those who commute to work. In one national survey, 78% of employees said that they've called in sick when they really aren't sick. They needed the time off to deal with family issues, personal needs, and stress.  Flexible hours allow telecommuters to run errands or schedule appointments without losing a full day. This results in reduced absenteeism for employers.

Workplace flexibility is also having a significant impact on employees' job decisions. In an article, Caroline Jones, an analyst for Gartner, calls telecommuting "the quiet revolution" and sees it slowly becoming an option that Corporate America can offer workers, along the lines of job sharing or maternity leave as more employees are reaping the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

A quarter of businesses that employ teleworkers reported improvements in employee health and reduced sick time.

A study conducted at the University of Minnesota found that flexible work arrangements make a big difference in employee health. Researchers and sociologists Drs. Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen analyzed data collected from 608 employees of a white-collar organization both before and after a flexible workplace initiative was implemented. The results showed that where and when people work contributes to better sleep, healthier lifestyle, and overall improved health.

The study also showed that people who work from home manage their health better: They are less likely to work while sick and more likely to see a doctor if necessary. People who work at home have healthier habits, too: They are more likely to eat nutritious snacks, take a walk or stretch periodically, and keep a glass of water on their desks.

"Our study shows that moving from viewing time at the office as a sign of productivity, to emphasizing actual results can create a work environment that fosters healthy behavior and well-being," said Moen. "This has important policy implications, suggesting that initiatives creating broad access to time flexibility encourage employees to take better care of themselves."

As the need for knowledge workers worldwide grows, many high paying jobs are suitable for telecommuting -- and perfect for people with disabilities, dropping barriers to employment for many skilled workers.

In a report on the "Virtual Workforce: The Changing Face of Absence and Productivity in the Technological Age," the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) found opportunities outweighed challenges faced by employers attempting to cut ADA compliance costs and attract skilled disabled employees through the creative use of remote work.

In an interview with HRO Today magazine, Steve Roth, senior director and mobile product manager at ADP said, "Mobile technologies, as they relate to human resources, will help employees connect with their employers much better. People just don't work the way they used to work. It's all about what you get done versus where you are."

Virtual workers are not practical for many businesses, and telework is not without drawbacks for employers.

The State of Hawaii does not currently have any established telecommuting resources or tax credits available to business owners. There are potential security issues, IT infrastructure changes, management challenges, and tax considerations.

However, a virtual, distributed workforce offers several unique advantages to Hawaii employers, such as reducing business continuation costs and lost productivity in case of hurricane, tsunami, other severe weather, or man-made disaster that might prohibit employees from driving to work.

With one of the most diverse, multi-cultural workforces in the world, Hawaii is uniquely positioned in global marketplace for business development and greener employment opportunities for knowledge workers  -- without leaving home.

Sylvia Dahlby, is a sales consultant at SmartSearch an applicant tracking system & recruiting business software solution. She's an early adopter of the internet and began telecommuting and working from home in 1990. Sylvia grew up on Oahu, and after living on the mainland for 30 years, she relocated back to Hawaii in 2008, where she now works from her home in Hilo.