Telecommuting: Wave of the future or simply not for you?According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 4.2 million more people worked from home than a decade ago, and no, they’re not all stay-at-home moms. The typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate — man or woman — who earns about $58,000 a year and belongs to a company with more than 100 employees.

At TRC Global Mobility, many of the employees we relocate spend at least one day a week – often more – working from home. Some more facts from the Census Bureau:

  • About one in 10 employees who worked exclusively from home was 65 or older in 2010.
  • About a quarter of home-based workers were in management, business and financial occupations.
  • Home-based workers in computer, engineering and science occupations increased by 69 percent between 2000 and 2010.
  • Mondays and Fridays were the most popular days to work from home for those who work both at home and at another location.
  • Metro areas in the Southeast, Southwest and West had the largest percentage of workers who worked from home.

How did telecommuting begin?

The history of telecommuting is outlined in LiquidPlanner:

  • In 1972 Jack Nilles, called “The Father of Telecommuting,” worked on a communications system for NASA from the comfort of his home. It was he who coined the term “telecommuting.”
  • The Washington Post published an article in 1979 titled, “Working At Home Can Save Gasoline.”
  • In 1980, the first telecommuting conference was held.
  • The Interagency Telecommuting Pilot Projects started in 1992, using telecenters for federal agencies outside Washington, D.C.
  • The National Telecommuting Initiative was adopted in 1996 to promote telecommuting, especially for government jobs.
  • AT&T celebrated the first “Employee Telecommuting Day” in 1994.
  • In 2004 Congress enacted an appropriations bill to encourage telecommuting for certain federal agencies.
  • In 2010, the Telework Enhancement Act was passed to improve the security and effectiveness of telecommuting for federal agencies.
  • In 2012, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer ends employee telecommuting.

Huh?

That last bullet caused a media storm of protest – not to mention employee reaction within Yahoo – with even Forbes wondering if Yahoo was returning to the Stone Age. And a week later, Best Buy also said it was ending its work-from-home policy.

In defending the policy at Fortune’s Great Place to Work Conference, Mayer first acknowledged that people are more productive when they work alone, but more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. She also noted that the new policy affected about only 200 of Yahoo’s 12,000 employees.

So why telecommute?

Many reasons! Mayer said it herself: Contrary to some lingering misconceptions, people are more productive, which has been borne out in numerous studies. In addition:

  1. Working at home creates greater flexibility, which is especially attractive to parents forced to juggle work responsibilities with family commitments.
  2. It frees workers from wasting time on long commutes.
  3. Workers are often less distracted at home than in a noisy office.
  4. Surveys have shown that companies offering work-at-home programs have lower employee turnover and their workers are more satisfied and less stressed.

And it can also save money by reducing real estate costs – fewer workers in a building means a smaller building. Last winter the federal government called four snow days. Employees worked from home, which saved the government an estimated $32 million, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

The good and the bad

According to research, telecommuting is the wave of the future. Telework Research estimates that presently, there are 20 to 30 million employees working from home at least one day a week and expects that number to greatly increase over the next two years.

But will telecommuting take over the work force? Probably not. A joint Stanford University/Ctrip (China’s largest travel agency) study found that although home-based employees worked 9.5 percent longer and were 13 percent more productive than office workers, the home-based workers were promoted at half the rate of their office-working peers. And after the nine-month study ended, 50 percent of the at-home workers asked to return to the office setting because they were lonely.

Both of these points suggest that employees who work at home must make a special effort to remain engaged with their supervisors and colleagues. Employees who are within commuting distance of their office can benefit from some “face time” at that location, even when it’s not essential to complete work assignments. Those remote employees who are not close to an office should be proactive in picking up the telephone from time to time, collaborating with colleagues, asking for opinions and ensuring their boss knows what they’re doing. There’s something to the old cliché of “out of sight, out of mind.”

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