There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when white collar employment implicitly meant that an American employee would need to travel to an office building in order to earn his or her weekly paycheck.
However, that was then—this is now.
In the Information Age, the advent of the Internet and personal computer have introduced new employment options that had—in the past—been almost inconceivable: gainful white collar employment that did not require commuting to an office every weekday.
Over the course of the last three decades, telecommuting—working remotely from a home office—has grown into a far more common employment option.
According to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the percentage of Americans working from a home office has almost doubled within the last decade. In fact, between 2005 and 2012 telecommuting in one form or another grew by an impressive 79 percent; by 2012, more than 3.2 million workers were working from home at least half of the time.
And, defying the notion that only millennials are given to relying heavily on technology, it’s worth noting that in recent years the average telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate, earning almost $60,000 per year.
Not surprisingly, given the preponderance of high tech companies, California leads the country in the area of telecommuting; San Diego County has the highest percentage of telecommuters, with more than 4.2 percent of employees working from a home office. In addition, federal government employees tend to work more from home offices than those in the private sector, with more than 3.3 percent of federal employees telecommuting.
As telecommuting has grown in popularity, one of the major concerns from more traditional employers has been the potential impact that working remotely would have on employee efficiency. Ironically, studies appear to indicate that employees working remotely tend to actually be more productive than their co-workers in the office.
Industry experts point to several reasons that help to explain the increased efficiency of telecommuting employees. They include:
The elimination of time lost on commuting; removing the daily commute, which can average up to an hour each way, can dramatically increase employee efficiency
The ability of remote workers to focus more exclusively on work, and to avoid office ‘distractions’, such as ringing phones and inter-office ‘walk-ins’ and conversations.
Greater flexibility—telecommuting employees are better able, and more willing, to adapt their work schedule in a productive manner that’s in sync with their personal life, resulting in a higher degree of efficiency
However, while employee efficiency may not be a legitimate concern, there are other negative factors that may arise as a result of employee telecommuting.
Some of those identified by the AEI include:
The challenges telecommuting presents to ‘teamwork’; as a growing number of employees work from a home office, it may become more difficult for employers to create a sense of teamwork required to ensure that employees work towards a united goal
Diminished opportunities for mentoring as well as workplace training; employees working remotely are far less likely to participate or contribute to either activity.
A disconnect from the company’s ‘corporate culture’; employees who telecommute are less likely to feel ‘connected’ to the company, and as a result, may present greater challenges for employee retention efforts.
Still, despite the potential obstacles, most experts agree that increased reliance on technology, and the growing acceptance of remote employment, means that the number of workers who telecommute is likely to grow considerably over the coming years.
For employers, the challenge will be how best to ensure that their organization is properly prepared to adapt to the growing wave of workers–who never show up in person for work.