The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

September 09, 2020

By Mehul Kamran, Carbon Neutrality Fellow 



COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives. How we shop, why we leave the house, and what we are wary of. Sports are all but nonexistent. In-person social interaction is (rightly) frowned upon. But, across the country, the biggest change to some many people’s everyday lives is the way we work. 

The days of commuting to one’s 9 to 5 job are in the not-so-distant past. Commonplace office interactions such as going to a colleague’s desk, in-person meetings with your boss, or grabbing lunch with a friend from work are behind us. Daily work structures have instead been replaced with telecommuting - working from home using the internet to get your job done. 

Telecommuting’s popularity has not gone unnoticed. Meeting hosting website reported a dramatic increase in web traffic since the beginning of March 2020 as companies scrambled to meet while socially distancing themselves. While other industries worried frantically about keeping employees and rent paid, Zoom saw its stock soar

When the dust settles and we slowly try to create a new normal, we would need to assess the effect telecommuting has on our daily lives, and if we should make it a point to integrate components of it into our regular working routines. 

The Benefits of Telecommuting
Let’s begin with the ways that telecommuting has a positive effect on our day to day working lives.

The first would be saving time and money on the physical commuting aspect of the workday. A study at the University of California, Davis found that telecommuting would save the average American over 110 hours annually. Those 110 hours would provide more flexibility for the workday, side projects, family, hobbies, or anything a person would want. 

From an employer standpoint, there’s a lot to gain from telecommuting. With the loads of free telecommuting software out there, employers can cut costs of office spaces while reaping the benefits of telecommuting for a fraction of the cost. If only a few employees are telecommuting, the employer is still saving on utility costs.

From an employee standpoint, less commuting means less money spent on gasoline, vehicle maintenance, and parking permits. It’s also been found that working from home saves money from the occasional work lunch, vending machine splurge, or treat on the way home. Even though employees are now paying more in utilities in their home office, overall, the transportation savings are higher, so employees save money as well.  

Not having to factor in that commute time and walking to meetings allows more flexibility for employers and employees, so it is easier for both to schedule meetings and improve work. In fact, employees have reported higher levels of productivity when working from home. Less time in traffic and more work getting done is definitely a practice to explore!

The Environment
The scope of telecommuting’s impact is greater than on just the employer and the employee: telecommuting has a dramatic effect on the environment. traffic350x233.jpg

If, after COVID-19, the new norm would have employees working from home more frequently, the nation would save tens of millions of gallons of gas per day. The same could be said for associated carbon emissions. Each telecommuter can reduce transportation-related carbon emissions by about 69% or 3.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.


The Downsides
While telecommuting has its benefits, its drawbacks are also significant and must be addressed.

Granted, any internet activity has its own security vulnerabilities, but telecommuting could pose additional risks to employers. Meetings held online can be susceptible to being hacked, which could result in the loss of personal information which could greatly impact workers. From an employer’s standpoint, hackers may also find corporate information that employers would not want in the hands of people outside of the company, which could result in a host of issues. 

officconvos300x200.jpgTelecommuting posing a security risk is not too far fetched., recently had a plethora of security risks exposed. From “Zoom Bombings” (random people joining your meeting) to Windows password stealing to terrible encryption, Zoom users are heavily exposed to cyber threats, to the point where even the FBI has released warnings about Zoom. The hosting site is widely used by schools, universities, and companies, putting millions at risk. New York City even barred the site from being used by schools due to its security issues. Now, Zoom may be just one type of hosting site, but any form of telecommunication can be prone to cyber issues that meeting in a traditional office setting would avoid. 

A second downside to telecommuting is the loss of professional and social relationships in the office. By not going to an office at all, one sees their professional and social workplace relationships diminish. Sure, telecommuting does allow for one to video/voice call anyone in the world as they wish, but the reality is that these relationships do see a decline when employees are telecommuting five days a week. 

The Bottom Line

Telecommuting has become easier as technology has progressed, and will only continue to improve. The benefits of telecommuting cannot be ignored, as it only stands to benefit employers and employees alike. Telecommuting five days a week may not be entirely beneficial, as there are still benefits to showing up to the office to work. However, incorporating telecommuting into the typical workweek would allow for professional and social relationships in the workplace to be saved, while increasing productivity and decreasing carbon emissions. 


Additional Telecommuting Resources

The Costs and Benefits of Telecommuting: An Evaluation of Macro-Scale Literature, UC Davis report

Why Telecommuting Is Good for Employers, The Balance Careers

8 Positive Environmental Effects of Remote Work, Virtual Vocations

Sun Microsystems Study Finds Open Work Program Saves Employees Time and Money, decreases Carbon Output, Business Wire