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Despite Yahoo and Best Buy, telecommuting jobs continue to increase

May 16, 2014

By Kristin Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Despite the notoriety that both Yahoo and Best Buy achieved last year when they eliminated telecommuting as work options for their employees, most other organizations are not taking the same path.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey published in September 2013, the number of telework jobs increased by 80% from 2005 to 2012.

New data from FlexJobs.com, a remote jobs placement services company, also indicates that telecommuting is rapidly growing year-to-year. Their data show that the number of organizations allowing telecommuting increased by 118% from 2012 to 2013.

According to Sara Sutton Fell, Flexjobs.com CEO, “The growth in remote jobs since 2007, when I founded FlexJobs, is amazing.  I strongly believed that we were tapping into a promising market back then, but it’s thrilling to see the increase in both volume and variety of top companies integrating telecommuting options as part of their workplace culture. This year is looking to be another big growth year in terms of remote job opportunities.”

Many people think of the telecommuter stereotype as a woman with small children or a 20-something male or female Millenial. In reality, the average telecommuter is a 49-year old college graduate, man or woman, who earns about $58,000 a year for a company with more than 100 employees (according to the Census Bureau).

The Census Bureau data also reveal that 79% of U.S. workers say they would like to work from home at least part of the time, and 50% of the total U.S. workforce hold jobs that are compatible with part-time telecommuting.  Taken together, these numbers suggest that approximately 50 million workers both could, and would like to, telecommute at least part of the time. Seeing these statistics, Yahoo and Best Buy may pulling against a strong current.

Telecommuting has been shown to offer many benefits to organizations and their employees.  Recently Global Workforce Analytics and the Telework Research Network reviewed over 500 studies about telecommuting. Based on that research, they came up with this list of common benefits to telecommuting:

  • Increased employee productivity
  • Increased employee satisfaction
  • Lower turnover
  • Employer cost savings not having to provide a physical office
  • Lower operating costs
  • Fewer unscheduled absences
  • An expanded the talent pool

These benefits are especially important to the 70% of employees who indicated that the ability to telecommute will be extremely important in choosing their next job.

Telecommuting touches on legal issues as well. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide reasonable accommodation for a known disability of a qualified applicant or employee, as long as providing it does not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the business.

A recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (which covers Michigan) went against Ford Motor Company in an ADA case. The plaintiff/employee requested permission to telecommute up to four days per week due to a severe case of Irritable Bowl Syndrome. Ford denied the request, but the Court ruled that telecommuting may have been a reasonable accommodation in this case.

Without question, there are downsides to telecommuting work arrangements. They are not for everyone.  The most common downsides reported by employees include the missed camaraderie and fear of being passed over for promotion due to an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality.

The organization’s culture must embrace telecommuting and maintain a high level of trust in order for it to work.  Management that requires a lot of “face-time” will sooner or later see such arrangements fail.  The main reason Yahoo discontinued its telecommuting program was the concern about the ability of their employees to collaborate effectively and build cohesive teams when they worked remotely.

But equally without question, all employers need to be open to considering telecommuting programs at their organizations if they want to remain competitive. The most successful programs are those where telecommuting expectations have been clearly laid out from both the employee and employer perspective. Their supervisors must be able to set goals and identify deliverables that can be measured and managed remotely. And the organization’s IT infrastructure must be able to fully support remote access to email, web conferences, and internal networks.

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