With more than 30 million workers in the U.S. telecommuting daily, telecommuting is an out of office experience that is becoming the norm. Although widely accepted, is it an option that works for all workers? VHMA recently posted a member survey and polled veterinary practice managers about their experiences with telecommuting. The survey elicited responses from 256 managers.
The results suggest that telecommuting---in one form or another---is a viable option for practice managers. Close to half the respondents (42 percent) report that they spend either some or all of their time working remotely. An additional 33 percent expressed interest in telecommuting, although they currently do not telecommute.
But not all managers find working remotely appealing, approximately 25 percent said that they do not telecommute and are not interested in telecommuting in the future.
The majority of telecommuters (48 percent) spend less than 11 percent of their time away from the office. A miniscule percentage (3 percent) work at home more than 80 percent of the time and 36 percent spend between 11 and 30 percent of their time working in a location other than the practice office.
Although telecommuting is somewhat common in the veterinary industry, most practice managers report that their practice has not adopted a formal telecommuting policy: only 13 percent said the practice has a telecommuting policy.
Employer-sanctioned telecommuting is more likely to evolve in response to a worker’s personal situation (44 percent) or in response to a request made by the employee (10 percent). Responses to personal situations such as maternity leave seem to be more long term. Employee requests appear to be more episodic and short term, such as weather-related requests to work at home.
Thirty-three percent cited “other” reasons for telecommuting but these responses can be divided into four categories:
- To complete assignments due to job demands that exceed the time available to accomplish the task in the office
- To meet a deadline and complete the task without interruptions
- To reduce travel time when a practice has multiple locations
- In response to unanticipated events
When working off-site, 47 percent said that they are not required to record their time. Employees required to track their off-site time, most often use the practice time clock (29 percent).
Silence is golden
What is the primary reason for telecommuting…peace and quiet!
Fifty-six percent report that they can complete their work without being distracted when working remotely and 47 percent enjoy the flexibility that telecommuting affords.
Thirty-one percent detailed their reasons for telecommuting in the open-ended “other” response category and their responses reveled a common theme: telecommuting allows these managers to complete assignments even though conditions may prevent them from travelling to the office. These situations occur when a child is ill, a babysitter is unavailable, the employee is under the weather or the cat is about to give birth to kittens! Only twenty percent telecommuted to save time and commuting expenses.
Doing it all…outside the office
Based on the responses, managers believe that they can perform many of their job responsibilities as effectively off-site as they do in the office. While working remotely, respondents report working on many tasks effectively: 90 percent handle financial administrative tasks, 69 percent address Human Resource administrative tasks, 66 percent conduct marketing management, 55 percent prepare Benchmark reporting, 40 percent perform inventory management and 38 percent complete client administrative tasks. Clearly, manager respondents are capable of working as effectively in a remote location as they do on-site.
Managers were also asked to identify difficulties they encountered in completing assignments while working off-site. Forty-six percent said that they do not struggle to perform any job-related tasks when working outside the office. The tasks most often mentioned as challenging to complete off-site are: inventory management (34 percent), client administrative tasks (28 percent) and Human Resources administrative tasks (20 percent).
Weighing the pros and cons
As with most decisions, it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages. When asked to weigh the pros and cons of telecommuting, respondents appreciate that they are more productive when working remotely (76 percent) and enjoy the flexibility telecommuting affords (54 percent). The downside of fewer interruptions is that 52 percent miss the regular face-to-face contact with coworkers and others. Moreover, when the home is also the office, 49 percent said it is difficult to separate work and the lines between personal and professional life are blurred.
When choosing sides, 78 percent cast their vote in favor of telecommuting and would recommend it to their colleagues.