Telecommuting in the Nonprofit- part 1


Let’s begin by defining a telecommuter as someone who performs their work at a physical location away from their work site on a regular basis.  A nonprofit job location can be at home, at a remote work center or in the field, as examples.

Three major classes of telecommuters are home based employees, neighborhood work center employees and mobile office workers. There are also a number of variations in telecommuting arrangements that can be accomplished by incorporating alternative work strategies such as the following.

Job enlargement refers to increasing the number of tasks an employee performs.

Job enrichment refers to programs that give employees greater control over the planning, organization and evaluation of their own positions.

Flex time allows employees to choose (within prescribed guidelines) their own working hours.

What I call “super telecommuting”  involves one employee performing the same task for multiple employers.

Job rotation involves moving employees from one position to another.

Compressed work weeks allow employees to work a lesser number days and a greater number of hours each day.  Total number of hours worked each week remains the same.

The concept of telecommuting was initiated in the 1950s. Companies discovered that they could make large cost reductions by using the advanced communications equipment available at that time. Much of management was centralized then but that started to change with telecommuting arrangements. The trend continued for the next two decades with growth fueled further by major events such as the OPEC oil embargo in the 1970s. Telecommuting allowed cost conscious corporations to effectively curtail travel expenses.

The increase in mergers and acquisitions helped telecommuting to pick up even more steam.  As companies became larger, they sought methods to achieve economies of scale and improve profitability.  Also, the growth of two income families created economic incentives to develop secondary sources of income. Telecommuting addressed that issue by providing an opportunity for employees to successfully balance their work and home lives.  Increases in real estate purchase prices, tax assessments, lease rates, utility expenses and maintenance costs also made telecommuting a desirable alternative.  As the American population aged, attracting and retaining qualified employees became more difficult. Offering telecommuting arrangements helped employers to stabilize their work forces and cut their recruiting/training expenses.

Interestingly enough, small nonprofit organizations today face many of the same challenges.  And the technological resources at their disposal now are far superior to those used in the past.

Providing a solid infrastructure is a necessary support to sound programming. Unfortunately many small nonprofits cannot afford this investment.  Although there is commonly talk about too much “overhead” in nonprofit organizations, often times there’s not enough investment made.  Many funders can be reluctant to provide financial support for administrative activities and that certainly doesn’t help matters either.

Collaboration between small nonprofits via shared service arrangements hold the potential to lower the administrative cost per unit of service.  In this regard, telecommuting could prove to be a viable option. Ready for even more diversity? On the employee side, nonprofit jobs offering a work from home option will likely result in an inbox flooded with many qualified applicants from different geographies.

Hey, stay with me. In my next post, I will talk about the potential benefits of a telecommuting program on nonprofit employee productivity, efficiency and profitability. And, just to keep a balanced perspective, I will also discuss potential barriers to telecommuting success.

2 Comments on “Telecommuting in the Nonprofit- part 1”

  1. […] As an example, see my series of posts starting with  Telecommuting in the Nonprofit- Part 1. […]

  2. […] As an example, see my series of posts starting with  Telecommuting in the Nonprofit- Part 1. […]

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