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Telecommuting on the Upswing

I have been telecommuting for more than 30 years. I like it now, but getting used to it did take a while. But I'd noticed my productivity went up, stress went down, and I gained much better control over my daily schedule. Not everyone can telework, but for those of us who can, it has become more attractive and common in use.

The State of Telecommuting

"The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce" report, published by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) provides an analysis of the state of telecommuting in the U.S. based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In its America Annual Community Survey (ACS), the Census Bureau surveys about 3.5 million households about where they work. BLS also conducts an annual nationwide survey. The details of each are buried in databases that researchers such as those at GWA take the time to understand. This report focuses on full-time employees who answered "worked at home" to the ACS question, "What was your primary means of transportation to work during the survey week?"

Continued Growth in Telecommuting

Telecommuting has grown by 115% in the past decade. This is nearly 10 times faster growth than experienced in the rest of the workforce. The non-telecommuter population grew by less than 12%. In 2015, about 3.9 million U.S. employees worked at least half of the time from home. This figure represents about 3% of the U.S. workforce.

The organizations with the highest number of telecommuters are the federal government and for-profit companies, with 3.1% of their workforces being telecommuters. Local governments are furthest behind, with 1.4% participation.

Technological advances heavily influenced the growth by making work easier to do when and where convenient. The ability to connect laptops, tablets, and phones to high-speed broadband, as well as the use of cloud-based services, are essential to business success today. Technology has enabled telecommuting, but workers are responsible for stimulating the growth. No age group is immune to telecommuting. There is an increasing demand for work flexibility.

Where You Work Makes a Difference

There are geographic differences in telecommuting success for employers that offer work-at-home options. Since 2010, the strongest growth has been in the New England (71%) and Mid-Atlantic (50%) regions. Most of the country is in the 20% plus range. The East South Central region came in at less than 1%. Employers in the New England (12%) and Mid-Atlantic (9%) regions offer the most telecommuting options.

Source: Special analysis of U.S. Census data conducted for Flexjobs by Global Workplace Analytics

Financial Benefits

GWA used its research-based models to estimate the impact of workplace strategies. Government and private sector employers use the GWA Telework Savings Calculator, vetted by the U.S. General Accountability Office, to make the profit business case for telecommuting. Based on an estimate of 3.9 million employees who telecommuted (half-time or more) in 2015, the GWA research model shows a savings for employers of $44 billion a year (an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter).

The report forecasts that 56% of employees have jobs they can do from home. For those who can choose to work from home at least some of the time (85% of employees) and did so just half of the time, the employer savings could increase to $688 billion a year.

Source: Special analysis of U.S. Census data conducted for Flexjobs by Global Workplace Analytics

Indirect Benefits

As the economy grows and unemployment decreases, hiring new staff becomes more difficult. The use of telecommuting can expand the labor pool and reduce talent and labor gaps. Increasingly, younger potential employees look for employers that promote telecommuting policies. Telecommuters do not take up office space when working remotely. They may also use their own technology, which reduces employer costs. Financially, an employer also could reduce or eliminate parking and transit subsidy fees paid to regular commuters. It could even reduce the parking requirements at the office.

More Report Conclusions

"The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce" included a number of other conclusions, including:

  • There is little gender difference in telecommuting -- 52% are women and 48% are men
  • The average income for telecommuters is $4,000 higher than for non-telecommuters
  • The typical telecommuter is older than the average employee. About 50% are 45 years of age or older, compared to just 41% of the overall workforce; telecommuting is most common among Baby Boomers
  • The average telecommuter is more highly educated than other employees. About 53% have a bachelor's or higher degree, compared to 37% of non-telecommuters
  • 20% of telecommuters have a high school diploma (or less); 27% have an associate's degree
  • In 2015, 40% more employers offered flexible workplace options than in 2010. Today, this means only 7% of employers make telecommuting available to most of their staff

As I mentioned above, I found that my stress levels went down when I started telecommuting. And, since then, I have found my creativity and innovation going up. Those are worthwhile benefits for employees and employers alike.