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When you research a topic enough times to feel familiar with it, then find out something entirely surprising, it’s always a fun time. After extensive research on the effects and costs of remote work and telecommuting, here are some interesting facts and surprising statistics that might change the way you and your companies see remote working.
Fact 1: Telework/Telecommuting has been around for at least 45 years
Oddly enough, “telecommuting” isn’t a new thing. More and more, it is getting pushed into global consciousness because of modern technology, the legislative policies, industry practices, and so on -- but interestingly enough, telecommuting first came about long before the internet was as widespread as it is today: in the 1970s.
The advent of home computers, coupled with more sophisticated telecommunications technology made telecommuting “a thing” even before personal computers. Jack Nilles, a former NASA engineer, wrote “The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff” in 1973 trying to answer the question of traffic, sprawl, and scarcity of non-sustainable resources.
His solution to these problems was telecommuting -- 1970s-style. Pre-internet, telecommuting meant to Nilles that companies broke up into satellite offices where employees could work at when they didn’t need to be physically present at HQ. So instead of going downtown through the hustle and bustle of the city and clogging up the already congested streets, clerical workers could report to the remote office closest to their homes. Makes sense, considering that at the time, there was a national energy crisis in the US, the OPEC oil embargo had begun, and the Clean Air Act had just been passed. The daily commute and the problems that accompanied it seemed to be answered by “telecommuting”.
In the 1980s, pioneering telework programs in the US started to crop up, and by the 1990s, many states, LGUs, and corporations had implemented teleworking programs. In 1996, the US Federal Government introduced a national telecommuting initiative with the goal of increasing both public and private teleworkers nationwide. For private corporations, the primary driver of telework initiatives was seen as ways to achieve financial and HR objectives.
According to an AT&T sponsored survey released by the International Telework Association & Council (ITAC), an estimated 28.8 Million Americans (or one-fifth of the adult working population at the time) worked from home, on the road, in a telecenter, or in a satellite office at least one day each week in 2001. In 2016, at least 43% of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely, according to a survey conducted by Gallup of more than 15,000 adults.
Fact 2: Telecommuters aren’t all millennials in startups
Maybe, like me, you have a notion in your head about what a remote worker or telecommuter is. In my head, he or she has a slick computer, is tech-savvy enough to be on top of new apps and programs that help make collaboration easier (see: Slack, Confluence, etc.), is young to youngish (i.e., early twenties to late thirties), has kind of a hacker vibe, or is a jack of all trades. Likely working for a startup or as a freelancer. Has clients around the world in different time zones. Has several jobs because remote work just doesn’t pay as well as it should.
Sounds plausible, right? Well, according to Global Workplace Analytics, the average telecommuter is 46 years old or older. At least 50% of all telecommuters are 45 or older. So millennials aren’t the largest remote working demographic after all.
Furthermore, the average annual income of telecommuters in the US is $4000 higher than those who work on-site. So the stereotype of “outsourced work = outsourced compensation” may not necessarily apply either.
Also, 40% more US employers offered flexible workplace options in 2017 than in 2010. Telecommuting isn’t just limited to startups and “hip workplaces”, which we all know, have a 90% chance of failing even before they get the chance to be surveyed.
Fact 3: Sociologically speaking, productivity is based on our ability to establish a work/life balance
The number one fact that people like throwing about when it comes to telecommuting is that it raises productivity significantly. There were even experiments in China on a mass scale, showing the marked improvement of the experimental (telecommuting) group of sales agents as compared to the control (office-based) group of sales agents.
But, a new study from the Journal of Business and Psychology found that people who experience a lot of conflict between their family and work priorities suffered more exhaustion when they telecommuted, regardless of whether they stuck to traditional work hours or had more flexible schedules.
Separating our work lives from our professional lives is a must, and those who have trouble doing that find their stresses compounded when you combine the two at home. It isn’t so much the place or work, or the flexibility of the schedule that breeds increased productivity -- but the discipline to keep portions of our lives distinct from each other.