More US Employees Telecommuting than Taking Public Transit to Work

More US Employees Telecommuting than Taking Public Transit to Work

New estimates from the US Census bureau, published last week, show that 8 million workers in the US are now primarily working from home, making telecommuting the country’s second most common way of getting to work after driving, displacing public transportation for the first time, Governing magazine reported on Friday:

Last year, an estimated 5.2 percent of workers in the American Community Survey reported that they usually telecommute, a figure that’s climbed in recent surveys. Meanwhile, the share of employees taking public transportation declined slightly to 5 percent and has remained mostly flat over the longer term.

The number of Americans telecommuting at least occasionally is much larger than what’s depicted in the federal data. That’s because the Census survey asks respondents to report how they “usually” go to work, meaning those working from home only a day or two each week aren’t counted. A 2016 Gallup survey found that 43 percent of employees spent at least some time working remotely. …

Those working from home at the highest rate — 11.7 percent — in the Census survey were classified as professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services workers. Other industries where telework is about as common include finance, insurance, real estate, agriculture and the information sector.

Last year’s American Community Survey data also showed that the number of US employees working remotely was on the rise: An analysis of that data found that 2.6 percent were working entirely from home—more than the number who walk and bike to work combined. Other surveys last year and this year have also found more Americans working from home, particularly workers over the age of 55. Employers see this trend continuing for the foreseeable future, and many are changing their policies around flexibility and remote work in response to greater demand for these options from employees in critical talent segments. Most US companies, however, don’t have explicit remote work policies, a survey earlier this year indicated.

The rise of remote work has opened up an important debate over how it compares to working on-site in terms of productivity, job satisfaction, and employee health and wellbeing. Studies have found that remote workers can be more engaged, less likely to quit, and even more productive than their peers in the office. Nonetheless, that might be because they are working longer hours, possibly out of fear of being overlooked for promotions if they don’t deliver extra work. The main downside remote workers experience is feeling disconnected from their teammates and the broader organization, both professionally and socially.

These downsides have inspired some companies, most notably IBM, to abandon their remote work policies and recall employees to the office in an effort to improve communication and team collaboration. If your approach to flexibility isn’t working, you may not need to take such drastic measures, however. Whether remote workers are more or less productive than on-site workers depends to a great extent on making sure their work is well structured, particularly in terms of their communication with other team members and the evaluation of their performance. It also doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition: One survey last year suggested that the most engaged employees split their time between in-person and remote work.

That more employees are opting for digital commutes over physical ones is no surprise, on the other hand. Our research at Gartner has found that long and stressful commutes can have a severe negative impact on job satisfaction, with an extra 20 minutes of commute time doing as much harm to satisfaction as a 19 percent pay cut. The length and difficulty of a commute is an increasingly important consideration for candidates looking for new jobs, which is why Google and LinkedIn have both added commute calculators to their job search engines. Particularly in major cities, transit benefits can be a way for employers to differentiate their reward packages from those of their competitors.