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The state of working from home

Re-post article from nj.com

Working from home is a reality for about 13.4 million people, at least one day a week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Experts say technology is a key driver behind the movement away from traditional offices.

For decades, going to work meant a morning commute and fighting rush hour traffic. For a growing number of Americans, however, the journey to the office is just a few steps from their bedroom.

Working from home is a reality for about 13.4 million people, at least one day a week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Experts say technology is a key driver behind the movement away from traditional offices to virtual workspaces. With advances in technology such as video conferencing, working from home is more viable than ever.

“Companies are realizing that their employees are already working from home, answering emails at night or completing projects on the weekends,” said Brie Reynolds, director of online content at FlexJobs, the leading job search site for flexible and telecommuting jobs. “Technology makes it possible for people to do this easily now, and companies are realizing that it can benefit the company’s bottom line, in addition to being a great benefit for employees.”

One of the biggest benefits for employers is the cost savings. Allowing employees to work from home means less office space and equipment are needed, and less money must be spent to expand into new territories. The average real estate savings for companies with full-time telework is $10,000 per employee per year, Reynolds said.

Switching to a more flexible work model also can help reduce employee turnover and boost morale. According to a recent FlexJobs survey, 82 percent of respondents said they would be more loyal to an employer if given flexible work options. Another study by the University of Minnesota and the MIT Sloan School of Management also found that flexible work lowers burnout and stress while increasing job satisfaction.

Working from home does have its potential drawbacks, though. Virtual employees can feel a sense of disconnect from the office or distractions like kids, pets or household chores can cause a loss in productivity.

Employees can take preventative measures to help combat these potential problems. Teams should utilize tools such as video calls, document sharing, project management programs like Basecamp or Slack, instant messaging and, of course, email — whatever works best to keep everyone connected and the lines of communication open.

It also can be helpful if employees periodically come into the office for meetings or just to do some work face to face.

“This helps reconnect them with their manager, work group and mission of the company,” said Ronald Lapointe, global real estate strategy manager for Xerox, which has a large virtual office program. “This isn’t always possible, but in a large company with several office locations, employees can visit the local office even if their workgroup works in another office.”

To help ensure focus and productivity, employees should aim to create a quiet, dedicated and secure home office space.

“This space is crucial not only for security purposes, but also enables the employee to focus on work tasks and eliminate distractions that may impact productivity,” Lapointe said.

Ask family members or roommates to respect your privacy and set clear boundaries between work and personal time.

The office space also should be distinct from the rest of the home. Having comfortable and ergonomically correct office furniture can aid in focus and productivity.