According to a new report from The Conference Board, the proportion of employees who work predominately from home (or another remote location) has, over the last decade, more than tripled in many industries, while nearly doubling nationwide among all full-time (non-self-employed) U.S. workers.
Drawn from a number of recent surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau and private sources, “The Incredible Disappearing Office: Making Telework Work” finds employees taking more frequent advantage of such workplace flexibility across the board, with 84 percent of employees who telework more than once per month now working remotely at least one day per week. In 2008, that number was 72 percent.
The latest research finds that teleworking rates (just over 2 percent nationwide) remain highest in occupations traditionally associated with the practice—including child care workers (9.1 percent in 2010), writers and authors (9.3 percent), and sales representatives (10.8 percent). The fastest growth, however, has been outside these familiar work-from-home roles, with the most dramatic increases seen in computer-related positions and others reliant on remote access to technical systems.
These trends are fundamentally altering the profile of the average teleworker. Where employees of non-profit organizations were most likely to telework in 2000, by 2010 the for-profit sector had taken the lead. It may be unsurprising that workplace flexibility appeals both to older workers nearing (or delaying) retirement and Gen Y new hires for whom virtual presence and multichannel communication are second nature.
With today's significantly cheaper, lighter-weight technology, organizations can often enjoy savings based on teleworkers. It is little wonder, then, that the federal government is embracing the approach. Signed into law on December 9, 2010, the Telework Enhancement Act (TEA) established a framework of identifying and training eligible employees, backed by appropriate policy and support, effective management oversight, and timely reporting; it offers a model not only for public agencies but also private organizations seeking to implement their own telework programs.
In surveys, teleworkers cite a number of obvious lifestyle benefits. With no commute, employees enjoy time with loved ones during precious morning and evening hours. Based from home, they gain the flexibility to adjust their schedules as job and personal demands arise. Likewise, teleworkers often note improved performance and higher productivity, with the ability to focus on work priorities free of the stress of distractions and office politics.
At the same time, this very autonomy can have distinct drawbacks. Teleworkers may feel cut-off from their colleagues and weakened in their ability to influence both day-to-day decisions and larger strategic plans. They often lack sufficient professional and administrative support and fear that being "out of sight, out of mind" keeps them from being properly recognized and rewarded by management. With meetings and group projects more difficult to coordinate, teleworkers also risk resentment from office-based colleagues, who may assume additional responsibilities in their absence. Finally, the same "always on" technology that makes the modern home office possible can mean difficulties setting boundaries between home and work time, setting the stage for potential overwork and burnout.
According to “Making Telework Work,” extensive, proactive planning from the top is key to reaping the significant cost savings and worker-satisfaction gains of teleworking while maintaining organization-wide morale and cohesion. Whether opportunities for telework are reserved for the best-performing employees, promoted across an organization, or used to attract standout applicants from a wider talent pool (such as disabled veterans, semi-retired experts, and parents with young children), leaders must establish formal, transparent guidelines if the "virtual office" is to be a real success.
Published with permission from RISMedia.