The Slow Rise of Telecommuting

With ever-increasing mobility and digital connectedness in the 21st century, there are many who dream about offices just fading away entirely. Will it happen? As it stands now, most people still head into the office for the daily work routine. It hasn’t caught on nearly as quickly as everyone thought it would, but it’s interesting to take a look at the research.

Ariel view of a woman using a laptop whilst her daughter is sleeping next to her, cuddling their pet dog.

First of all, let me review the terminology. If you bring work home and work on it in addition to having been in the office, that’s called telework, which is not what I’m talking about. Telecommuting, on the other hand, is when you utilize technology to accomplish your work instead of going to an office. There are lots of new terms popping up to describe this phenomenon, including smart working, workshifting, remote work, distributed work, and mobile work.

Unfortunately (and inexplicably), the US Census Bureau doesn’t collect specific data about this. Its American Community Survey (ACS) does ask about your primary means of transportation to work during the survey week, and one of the answer options is worked at home. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t distinguish among a variety of nuanced options.

To begin with, it doesn’t tell us the true extent or frequency of telecommuting – it’s a snapshot of a week and all we know is these folks worked primarily from home, which would be at least half-time, but that’s not very specific. It’s also important to separate the self-employed from employed telecommuters. As it turns out, home-based self-employment declined by 3.4% from 2005-2014. This statistic, along with the ones cited below, come from

  • 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency.
  • 80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time. Two to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot that allows for a balance of concentrative work (at home) and collaborative work (at the office).
  • Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their space around the fact that employees are already mobile. Studies repeatedly show they are not at their desk 50-60% of the time.
  • Regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 103% since 2005.
  • 7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.

There are some significant advantages to expanding the telecommuting workforce. For those who have jobs compatible with telecommuting, letting them telecommute for half their time saves a lot of money. The employing organizations would save about $11,000 per employee over the course of a year, while the employees would save anywhere from $2,000-$7,000 per year in commuting costs. And then there’s also the significant reduction in greenhouse gases that would occur, which would be like taking New York State’s entire workforce off the road permanently, and that’s nothing to sneeze at!

Notice how it seems most people do want a mix – most don’t want to be constrained by an either/or choice between telecommuting and office work. After all, engaging in workplace collaboration is still easier and perhaps more rewarding when done face-to-face.

And then there’s the phenomenon of co-working. These are physical workspaces people can subscribe to, whether they’re remote workers, independent professionals, or freelancers. Research shows that people who work in co-working spaces really thrive in them. Because your co-working “colleagues” are from a range of companies or are independent, there are no office politics per se, which lets them focus on the work rather than the internal company politics. And because many co-working spaces are available 24/7, you can choose when you work – such as during those hours when you know you’re most productive. For many, it represents an ideal mix of autonomy along with just enough structure to make it work.

How is your company approaching these options to accommodate greater flexibility in where your employees do their work? It’s worth sitting down and thinking through what makes the most sense for your company and your workers.

October 11, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   co-working, telecommuting, working from home   

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