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Common Myths and Truths About Teleworking

Evan Taylor
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer changes work policy and ends telecommuting on June 1st.

You're balancing your work duties, your children and your spouse, and you're wondering if there is ever enough time in the day. You're not alone. Telework, or the ability to work remotely from an alternative worksite, aims to make it all easier. The question is, is telework really good for us or our employers?

A popular belief is that telecommuting is most common among women, parents and millennials, but recent research doesn't reflect that, according to Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of consulting firm Flex + Strategy Group. "We need to de-gender, de-parent and de-age this conversation about flexibility," Yost says.

Below, Yost and Sean O'Brien, executive vice president of strategy and communications at Premiere Global Services, Inc, which provides conferencing and Web meeting software, dispel telecommuting myths and share the costs and savings of adopting telework policies.

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Fiction: Telework is only for mothers and women.

Fact: Men are more likely to telework than women. "Too often we think of flexibility and telework as something a mom or a woman wants," Yost says. According to a Flex + Strategy Group telephone survey of 556 full-time U.S. employees in 2013, men comprised 71 percent of respondents who said they did most of their work from a remote location.

Fiction: Telework is only for parents who want to be with their children.

Fact: Telecommuters are not more likely to have children. According to Yost, "There was no significant difference between those who had children and those who didn't have kids." Of those surveyed, 29 percent of people who telework don't have children, and 32 percent do. Yost says telecommuting parents can gain valuable time with their children in exchange for their commute, but telework should not be used as a substitute for child care.

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Fiction: Only millennials are interested in working remotely.

Fact: There is no significant difference between generations and their interest in telework. "The other stereotype that we shattered with this research was it isn't just Gen Y or millennials," Yost says. "There was no significant difference among the age groups that said they did their work remotely." Flex + Strategy Group's survey found that about one-third of full-time employees work from a remote location, but this finding was not limited to millennials. Among those who worked remotely, 35 percent were millennials, 30 percent were Generation Xers and 30 percent were baby boomers.

Fiction: Everyone can telework or work remotely.

Fact: Not all companies give their employees the option. Premiere Global Services State of Telecommuting 2014 survey found that 20 percent of companies don't allow telecommuting. "Every employer needs a process or common set of questions that guide employees to come up with a plan to be effective teleworking and working remotely," Yost says. Organizations should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead determine job-by-job which positions are a good fit for remote work.

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Fiction: Telework can be successful without formal training and policies.

Fact: Companies need to have the framework, training and technology to make telework successful. With the technology available today, teleworking is easier for companies to implement. "There has been an important evolution of tools that enable a more robust experience," O'Brien says. For example, companies are now using Web conferencing software and online video meeting applications to conduct meetings with clients and employees not in the office. "It is a foundational operating strategy in many organizations -- it is not a perk or program," Yost says.

Fiction: Providing the equipment for teleworking isn't worth the cost.

Fact: Telework is fairly inexpensive to adopt and might save money. "The cost savings especially related to reduce real estate overhead is driving more organizations to embrace telework," Yost says. And the gains aren't just monetary. There are "personal productivity gains from not having to commute as often or not being disrupted every day in the office," Yost says.

O'Brien says telework can be mutually beneficial as long as the right policies are in place. "Teleworking is very simple to adopt to drive better benefits to your employees and to reap a better return on your investment in those employees," he says, "but you won't get that value without a commitment to best practices ... and the right technology."

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