Are Telecommuters Happier?

January 25th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Recent research suggests staying home is the way to go.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

In the last ten years, I’ve alternately telecommuted and worked in an office full-time. And with a decade of experience in trading scenarios, I can say with some certainty that I’m happier overall as a telecommuter. That said, I’d be happiest striking a balance between the two – working in an office part of the week, and at home the remaining days. Both have their advantages…

From my standpoint, the main lures of telecommuting include: time saved primping (yes, I still shower, but I do not, for instance, coordinate jewelry with clothing as I did as an office-bound employee), a drastic cut in commuting time and fuel costs, and the avoidance of unnecessary small talk. I’ve worked in offices that pride themselves on being highly collaborative, which has been great in theory, until one meeting morphs into a meeting about the prior meeting, which then must be continued in – you guessed it – a follow-up meeting. Hello, 7p.m., I suppose I’ll be taking the work home with me that I didn’t do before you arrived.

On the other hand, I’ve appreciated the structure of getting up at a certain time and removing myself from the house to go to work. Gone are the temptations to clean something or peruse my favorite sample sale site before getting down to business. Looking professional (yes, including the jewelry) helps put me in a professional state of mind.  Collaboration – provided you can keep it on track and productive – can lead to breakthroughs you might not have on your own. And if you can get to a healthy stopping place before you leave the office, you can leave your work at the office, too. Which means that when you look at your children, you see their adorable faces – not the specter of the thing you didn’t complete that day. Compartmentalization, which is difficult to accomplish in a home office situation, is a beautiful thing.

Recent research has found that my ultimate scenario just might be the best, as a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Kathryn Fonner and Michael Roloff related that workers who telecommute at least three days a week are the happiest.

In this study, which appeared in the November issue of the Journal of Applied Communication Research, the main benefit telecommuters reported was a “decreased work-life conflict” that a flexible work arrangement allows. The idea that they would feel alienated from workplace communication – which the researchers said is often cited as telecommuting’s biggest disadvantage – wasn’t really an issue for these respondents. Other major benefits linked to high job satisfaction included being shielded from office politics, interruptions, constant meetings and information overload.

Of course, if your office requires your presence five days a week, the study encourages managers to do things like limit the number of meetings and mass emails, designate times and spaces where employees can work uninterrupted, and encourage employees to disconnect from workplace communication at the end of the day.

But if you plan to make a case for telecommuting, the American Electronics Association would like you to know that you have the environment on your side of the negotiation. As much as 1.35 billion gallons of gas could be saved annually if every U.S. worker who was able worked from home 1.6 days a week. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this would account for a 26 billion pound reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. (Imagine being able to make that claim on your company’s next corporate social responsibility report!)

Need further ammunition? Check out the Planet Green Guide to Working from Home, with helpful information regarding the benefits of working at home, setting up a home office and a thorough look at whether telecommuting actually is greener.

But as with every work style, telecommuting is a personal choice. Do you have compelling reasons for office work over telecommuting – or vice versa? Share them here.