Telecommuting Advances

Working from home is on the up and up.

According to the new book by pollster Mark Penn, "Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes," 4.2 million Americans work from home, up 23 percent since 1990, and almost 100 percent since 1980.

Penn argues that microtrends–"small, under-the-radar forces that can involve as little as 1 percent of the population"–have a strong impact on our society. Telecommuting is one such microtrend, according to the book, and is advancing because it eliminates commutes, saves gas money, helps employees in their quest for work-life balance, and mostly because technology is galloping apace.

The Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger explores the increasing number of employers hiring professionals to telecommute full-time from the start of their tenure. Though she reports that landing one of these jobs isn’t easy, in a separate blog-post she writes, "the widening trickle of home-based new hires at big, mainstream employers seems to mark an exciting new era, not only for work-life quality but for productivity."

While telecommuting isn’t for everyone, some workers flourish under the setup. So what does it take to succeed?

Learning to Thrive

After working from home for nearly a year and reading various media on the subject, I offer a few key guidelines for those trying to decide if telecommuting is a realistic goal:

  • Know yourself. If you don’t have the innate drive to be productive at home, full-time work there won’t benefit you or your employer(s).
  • Know your job/profession. Size up your job and determine whether it lends itself to telecommuting; not all positions do.
  • Know your employer. If your company isn’t open to telecommuting, you’re not likely to get far. Of course, it’s in everyone’s best interest for employers to be flexible enough to consider it, as Shellenbarger notes: “The obstacles to telecommuting — managers’ fears, deficient technology, and hidebound ideas that team-building and showing commitment can only be done in an office — have been too deeply entrenched.”

Telecommuting is here to stay, and as employers continue to discover its value, I suspect it will pick up speed.

Chris Consorte, a distance-education instructor in New York state, believes in about 15 years, half the workforce will work from home. By allowing more telecommuting, employers won’t need to operate as many large office buildings and will reap big savings, he says. Meanwhile, they’ll enjoy a happier, more productive workforce.

Profiles in Telecommuting

Several commenters on Shellenbarger’s blog say successful telecommuters are driven and self-motivated–and not distracted by their surroundings, such as children, TV or housework.

Meanwhile, in Microtrends Penn writes:

This is a successful and self-driven class of people. … People who work from home full-time put in an average of 44.6 hours per week, compared with just 42.2 hours contributed by full-time on-site workers.

He notes that 53 percent are women, 58 percent run their own businesses and 68 percent have some college experience. They also “report a lot of joy. According to a study by the American Business Collaboration, 76 percent of full-time telecommuters report high job satisfaction, compared with only 56 percent of on-site workers.”

Several telecommuters commenting on Shellenbarger’s blog say they’re extremely productive, not to mention pleased by at-home perks like saving time, money–and making their own coffee.

Readers, do you have telecommuting stories to share? What are the upsides and downsides of this trend?