Cloud Computing ConceptCloud commuting (telecommuting with the help of cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox and VPNs) has grown in popularity recently. Telecommuting, up nearly 80% since 2005, is projected to grow another 60% in the next 5 years.  30 million Americans already work from home at least one day a week – and 79% say they would work from home part-time if their companies allowed it.

It’s clear that Americans are working from home more, and even more are open to the idea. Proponents of telecommuting say that it’s better for workers, better for companies and better for the environment. But is cloud commuting really all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe not, according to some.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made the news in early 2013 when she put a stop to the company’s liberal work-from-home policy.  Best Buy quickly followed suit. And recent research suggests that telecommuting may not be as beneficial to workers as we once thought.

So is telecommuting good or bad for the American workforce? Let’s take a look.

Cloud Commuting and Productivity

Does cloud commuting and working from home mean higher productivity? That’s the question at the center of many telecommuting debates.

Jack Niles, considered by many to be the father of the telecommuting movement, thinks it does. Niles argues on his blog that “properly managed telecommuters” are more productive, better organized, more focused and happier than their in-office counterparts. And some research supports his theory. According to Global Workplace Analytics, more than two-thirds of employers report increased productivity from telecommuters.

But not everyone agrees. One study finds that telecommuters are 10% less productive than traditional workers at certain tasks. Telecommuters may be distracted by children, pets, chores or the TV while at home. They may not have access to productivity-enhancing technology that’s available in corporate offices, like server access, software packages, and fiber-optic Internet. And many believe that telecommuting is bad for collaboration, communication and innovation.

Cloud Commuting and the Environment

Proponents of cloud commuting often talk about how working from home is better for the environment. Fewer people driving to the office means fewer cars on the road, less energy use and lower emissions.

Some estimates suggest that telecommuting could reduce vehicle miles by more than 35 billion, save almost 2 billion gallons of gas and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70-130 metric tons per year.

As great as those statistics sounds, it’s best to take them with a grain of salt. According to Forbes, telecommuters often drive just as much as traditional workers between lunches out, errands and occasional trips into work. And engineering professor Arpad Horvath notes that the extra energy used in home offices produces more nitrous oxide and methane – and both are worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.

Plus, large companies often have incentives – including tax breaks and public image -to reduce their environmental impact. Not so for telecommuters, who may also lack the resources to invest in environmentally-friendly technology and supplies.

Cloud Commuting and Worker Wellbeing  

One of the biggest and most obvious benefits of cloud commuting is greater flexibility for workers. They don’t have to waste hours driving to and from work. They can make time for doctors’ appointments, errands and the cable guy. They can pick the kids up from school and work on the go. They can even work in their pajamas if they want.

But this image of the relaxed, stress-free telecommuter isn’t entirely accurate. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that telecommuting results in longer hours and more intense demands – telecommuters are more likely to work an additional 5 to 7 hours of overtime.

And as inconvenient as commutes can be, they provide a helpful barrier between work and home. Telecommuting – especially because it often occurs in the 24/7 world of technology – can blur the boundaries between work and home, leading to work-family conflicts and higher stress levels for employees.

The bottom line? Telecommuting can be a great resource for some employees – if they do it right. Done wrong, telecommuting could have negative impacts on workplace productivity, worker wellbeing and even the environment.


About the Author

Alexis Caffrey is a freelance writer with a focus on technology, new media, and design. In a former life she was a graphic designer based out of New York, NY. As a freelancer, she works from home and makes use of the cloud every day . You can reach Alex via her email.