Telecommuting's Week and Weaknesses

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2007-02-28

Did you know this is Telecommuter Appreciation Week? In homage to the birthday of the telephone man himself, Alexander Graham Bell, on March 3, TAW runs from Feb. 25 to Mar. 3 this year and is designed to call attention to the "win-win" benefits that arise when workers commute--namely saved time, lower commuting expenses, reduced stress and greater scheduling flexibility.

The folks at the American Telecommuting Association want to remind employers that there are more benefits to remote work than that. Telecommuting makes for more loyal employees, they say, as they are more satisfied with their jobs. They tend to be easier to recruit and retain, and are often the most productive employees. There are societal benefits to telecommuting as well, from reduced traffic, minimized air pollution, less strain on transportation structures and fewer demands on nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels.

The Census bureau tells us that Americans spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work--more than the two weeks vacation time many workers have each year. The average daily commute is just over 25 minutes. Residents in New York and Maryland had the longest daily commutes of more than 30 minutes, and about six percent of workers in New York City and Baltimore have commutes of 90 minutes or more.

With all of the pros clearly outweighing the cons, one may wonder why more of the work force that is able to telecommute doesn't. A study released last month by Korn/Ferry International, a Los Angeles recruitment firm, sums it up pretty well--people worry that it will be bad for their careers. And with good reason: More than half (61 percent) of the 1,320 global executives surveyed said they saw career stagnancy among telecommuting workers.

A separate study released in August 2006 by OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half International, echoed this sentiment. Forty-three percent of respondents said telecommuting is best-suited for staff-level employees, not executives (chosen by 14 percent) or managers (chosen by 18 percent). The majority of respondents in this survey also noted that senior executives at their companies rarely (55 percent) or never (12 percent) telecommuted.

So is there no hope for telecommuting? Not quite, says Brian Garbrielson, vice president of staffing firm Robert Half Technology, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

"You can see these numbers as the glass half empty or half full, but I'd guess these numbers were much higher five years ago, with even 80 or 90 percent viewing telecommuters as less ambitious. I think that number will continue to come down as the technology improves our ability to work remotely."

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