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.
Shari Buck, co-founder of the physicians’ social networking platform Doximity, made the case in a Quartz post last week for “work-from-home Wednesdays,” a policy her company adopted a few years ago that, in her opinion, strikes the right balance between the flexibility and work-life balance benefits of a work-from-home policy and the need for consistency and accountability among employees:
There are two reasons that scheduling our WFH day in the middle of the week has turned out so well. The first is that it breaks up the week nicely: two days in the office, one day working remote, and then two more days back in the office. This leads to a consistent workflow that balances a number of planning meetings early in the week, a productive Wednesday working from home, and two equally productive and collaborative days on the tail end of the week.
Additionally, scheduling WFH days on Wednesdays rather than on Mondays or Fridays prevents employees from thinking of them as faux three-day weekends. WFH Wednesday is still a work day after all, and the fact that employees are required to be back in the office on Thursday reinforces accountability. WFH Wednesdays have boosted work-life balance for all of our employees. At the same time, they have kept our business productive and on a path of positive growth for nearly a decade.
For companies that have already determined that remote work policies can work at their organization, this is an interesting idea. Designating Wednesdays as the day for remote work companywide—and shutting down the office to boot—could have some downsides, however.
The second annual Future Workforce Report from the freelance hiring platform Upwork finds that even though most US managers expect more of their team members to work remotely in the coming years, most also say their organization lacks a specific policy on remote work:
Sixty-four percent of hiring managers feel that their company has the resources and processes in place to support a remote workforce, yet the majority (57 percent) lack a remote work policy. …
Over half (55%) of hiring managers agree that remote work has become more commonplace as compared to three years ago. Five times as many hiring managers expect more of their team to work remotely in the next ten years than expect less. In the next ten years, hiring managers predict that 38 percent of their full-time, permanent employees will work predominantly remotely.
Among those companies that do have remote work policies, many respondents indicated that these policies are evolving to become more flexible and inclusive, which is helping them attract talent in a tight labor market:
Nearly half (45%) of hiring managers said their company’s work-from-home policy has changed in the past five years, with 60 percent saying it has become more lenient and inclusive. This increased inclusivity is making it easier for companies to find the talent they need. Over half (52%) of hiring managers that work at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year.
A recent study from Cardiff University suggests that employees who work from home are more likely than their peers who work in the office to work extra hours and put extra effort into doing their jobs. The study, published in the journal New Technology, Work and Employment and covered by the Daily Mail, examined survey responses from 15,000 UK employees in 2001, 2006 and 2012, and found that 39 percent of at-home remote workers said they “often have to work extra time, over and above the formal hours of my job, to get through the work or to help out,” compared to just 24 percent of in-office workers. Also, 73 percent of those who work from home said they put more effort than required into their job, compared to 68.5 percent of those who work from the office.
Professor Alan Felstead, the study’s lead author, offered the Daily Mail a theory as to what was causing this discrepancy:
Professor Felstead said: ‘The evidence suggests that remote workers are over-compensating to prove to their colleagues they are not in their pyjamas at home and prove to their employers they are a safe pair of hands willing to go the extra mile in return for the discretion an employer gives them to work at home or in a remote location.’
Noting that the percentage of the UK workforce doing their jobs in a traditional workplace had fallen from 74.8 per cent in 2001 to 66.4 per cent in 2012, the study also pointed out that there were downsides to remote work in terms of employee wellbeing: Nearly 44 percent of remote workers reported that they had difficulty unwinding after a day at work, while only 38.1 percent of fixed-location staff said so. This, Felstead said, reflects the challenge for remote workers of setting clear boundaries between their professional and personal lives.
Another factor that might help explain why remote workers may be overcompensating is that they feel disconnected from their colleagues, Marianne Calnan adds at People Management:
The UK government is spending significantly to improve the country’s communication technology infrastructure, Workplace Insight’s Neil Franklin reports, in a deliberate effort to enable more Britons to work remotely:
The UK’s faltering move towards ultrafast broadband has been given a much-needed boost with the launch of a new fund, which will support the rollout of cutting-edge connections across the country. The government’s £400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) will unlock over £1 billion for full fibre broadband, and kick-start better broadband connections across the country. Its aim is to revolutionise Britain’s digital infrastructure, making internet access more reliable for homes and businesses, and enabling more people to enjoy remote working without disruption. According to the Treasury, the flexibility to work remotely is pivotal for driving the economy forward; reducing overheads and helping businesses to start and grow.
Quartz’s data editor Christopher Groskopf analyzed data from the US census and the American Community Survey to find out how many Americans are doing their work entirely from home these days. Full-time home workers, the Quartz analysis found, now make up a record 2.6 percent of American employees, which Groskopf notes is more than the number who walk and bike to work combined:
The data show that telecommuting has grown faster than any other way of getting to work—up 159% since 2000. By comparison, the number of Americans who bike to work has grown by 86% over the same period, while the number who drive or carpool has grown by only 12%. We’ve excluded both part-time and self-employed workers from these and all results.
Intriguingly, with an average annual income of nearly $80,000, people who work from home earn the highest wages of any major category of commuters tracked by the US census. (Broken down further, remote workers are edged out by those who commute by non-subway trains, taxis, or ferryboats.) This is mostly due to the nearly 550,000 remote workers who are managers—the largest group of home workers in any single job category.
In no profession is work from home more popular, however, than computer programming. In fact, Groskopf adds, “among the most experienced, some are even beginning to demand it“:
Political science professor Robert E. Kelly was clearly flustered last week when his two young children barged into his home office just as he was being interviewed over Skype by the BBC about the political situation in Korea, sending his wife scrambling to get the kids out of the room and rescue his big TV moment. The video of Kelly’s interrupted interview went viral, of course, making him the focus of countless jokes and earning him some mostly good-natured criticism over how he handled the situation. Some suggested a mother would have reacted differently, as in this parody video: