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Reasons Why Teleworking Belongs in Your Future

Advantages, Impediments, and Who's Teleworking?

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Woman works at her home office desk

Teleworking Is a Valued Workplace Option

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Are you interested in all of the latest information about the state of teleworking? In a world where technology use is increasing every day and with every generation of workers, teleworking should be pursued as an employee option. It is viable and offers significant advantages for the employer and for employees.

Teleworking, and other creative work schedule options, are becoming essential to your ability to attract and retain talented employees. Work schedule flexibility is one of your most significant options in attracting millennial employees and retaining the knowledge and mentoring of Baby Boomers.

How important is teleworking to US employees? Of the companies that made Fortune Magazine’s 2011 annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, 82% of the companies allow their employees to telecommute or work at home at least 20% of the time. Is your organization competitive?

State of Teleworking Report

Kate Lister, an internationally respected and quoted expert on teleworking (workshifting), and Tom Hamish, have put together a comprehensive report on the state of teleworking in the US.

Lister's organization, the Telework Research Network, studied the telework trends over the past five years. Sponsored by Citrix Online, the summary report, The State of Telework in the U.S., reveals who is working remote, how they're teleworking, and where they're teleworking. The report also considers the social and economic impact of the practice.

Working with their own data and the data gleaned from existing studies and statistics from such organizations as WorldatWork and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lister and Hamlish present a picture of telecommuting as it currently exists.

You will want to read the full report about telework trends. The report offers some key findings about the who, what, when, where, why, and why not of teleworking. I found especially interesting the factors that currently impede the progress of teleworking in a national employment picture that includes these factors.

  • 45% of the US workforce holds jobs that are compatible with, at least, part-time telework.

  • Fifty million US employees who want to work from home hold jobs that are telework compatible though only 2.9 million consider home their primary place of work (2.3% of the workforce).

  • Regular telecommuting grew by 61% between 2005 and 2009. During the same period, home-based self employment grew by 1.7%.

  • Based on current trends, with no growth acceleration, regular telecommuters will total 4.9 million by 2016, a 69% increase from the current level but well below other forecasts.

  • 76% of telecommuters work for private sector companies, down from 81% in 2005—the difference is largely attributable to increased working at home among state and Federal workers.

  • Using home as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ per the Americans with Disabilities Act, 316,000 people regularly work from home.

  • The typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old, college-educated, salaried, non-union employee in a management or professional role, earning $58,000 a year at a company with more than 100 employees.

  • Relative to the total population, a disproportionate share of management, professional, sales and office workers telecommute.

  • Non-exempt employees are far less likely to work at home on a regular or ad hoc basis than salaried employees.

  • Over 75% of employees who work from home earn over $65,000 per year, putting them in the upper 80 percentile relative to all employees.

  • Larger companies are more likely to allow telecommuting than smaller ones.

  • Non-union organizations are more likely to offer telecommuting than those with unions.

  • Lister concludes that 50 million people would be the theoretical maximum for working at home. That accounts for 36% of the total workforce or 40% of the non-self-employed workforce.

  • Other studies suggest that even more employees would work at home if the option were available. The Telework Research Network, WorldatWork 2011 Telework Survey, 2009 American Community Survey concludes that: of their projected 63 million employees who could work at home:
    --30.4 million or 49% could, wants to, but doesn’t work at home,
    --16 million or 25% could work at home 1-5 days a month,
    --2.9 million or 5% could work at home 3-5 days a week,
    --13.4 million or 21% doesn’t want to work at home.

*Unless otherwise noted, all telecommuter statistics refer to non-self-employed people who principally work from home. All information is used with the permission of the report’s author.

Business Benefits of Teleworking

The advantages of teleworking to the employer and employees are compelling. I have explored the advantages and disadvantages of a flexible schedule, including teleworking, at length.

In their teleworking study Lister and Hamish conclude that businesses would experience these benefits.

  • *"Save over $13,000 per person
  • Increase productivity by over $466 billion—6 million man years
  • Save $170 billion in real estate and related costs (assuming a 20% reduction)
  • Save $28 billion in absenteeism (25% reduction) and turnover (10% reduction)
  • Improve continuity of operations
  • Avoid environmental sanctions, city access fees, etc.
  • Reduce their energy costs and carbon footprint
  • Improve work-life balance and better address the needs of families, parents, and senior caregivers.
  • Avoid the ‘brain drain’ effect of retiring Boomers by allowing them to work flexibly.
  • Be able to recruit and retain the best people."

* Calculated by the Telework Research Network’s proprietary Telework Savings Calculator™ and assuming: 25% reduction in real estate costs at $43/sf, 1.5 day a year reduction in absenteeism, 10% reduction in turnover, and 25% increase in productivity (at an average salary of $41,605, the weighted average of the jobs included in the projection - based on 2009 ACS.)

Impediments to Teleworking

Lister’s projections for the wide-spread adoption of teleworking are more conservative than the projections of other organizations studying the opportunity. She is not as optimistic about the proportion of organizations that are ready and willing to make the profound cultural shift that teleworking requires.

She finds the biggest obstacle to teleworking is middle management. Lister says, "The issue of mistrust—'how do I know they’re working', is huge and not easily overcome. Management attitudes that were born in the days of sweatshops and typing pools still dominate. And even in those rare organizations where senior management unambiguously supports the concept, lack of middle management buy-in is the stumbling block." Additionally, in some organizations, senior management is unsupportive of teleworking.

The second biggest obstacle is job compatibility with teleworking. Some jobs have to be performed on site. But, proportions of many jobs, in an environment supportive of teleworking, could be performed at home or another work location.

Take a look at the Teleworking Trends report for additional insights about the impact of increased teleworking on society, economics, and the individual. You'll be happy that you did. Lister and Hamish have done a remarkable job of drawing from current research to look at the state of teleworking and the potential of teleworking in the US.

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