Telecommuting hits the corporate mainstream

2006

Two thirds of HR managers in the U.S. believe that working from home will become more commonplace over the next two years as the option to work from remote locations becomes part of standard operating procedure in most companies.

Eight out of 10 American companies already have policies that allow employees to work remotely, according to a new survey by Yoh, a provider of talent and outsourcing services across the U.S.

Yoh surveyed 198 HR managers at the Society for Human Resource Management 2006 Conference and Exposition in June about their company's telecommuting policies and found that a quarter now allow staff to work from home and only one in five are still resisting the trend outright.

According to Jim Lanzalotto, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing for Yoh, the change in attitude has largely been driven by the realisation that offering flexible working options can be a key weapon in attracting the right talent.

"The war for talent, combined with commuting times and costs, and an increasing need for work-life balance are all factors that promote telecommuting," he said.

"This survey validates what we've seen over the years: high-impact talent prefers - indeed, thrives - in an environment that provides a flexible work-life balance.

"All things being equal, a well-articulated telecommuting policy can make the difference between winning and losing a bid for a high-impact professional, especially when more than 27 million people in the United States work from home."

But the popularity of remote working is also being driven by technology.

"It's not difficult to infer what is driving this trend," Lanzalotto added.

"People and organizations have long wanted the business flexibility telecommuting offers. But it's only in recent years that the technologies that enable cost-effective telecommunications have reached critical mass - such as wireless broadband, PDAs and smart phones, and standard issue PCs capable of remote enterprise access.

"Likewise, telecommuting itself is reaching critical mass. And that's why hiring managers and HR professionals need to make sure these policies are attractive if that want to attract high-impact talent."

But despite this bullish picture of the future of telecommuting, other research has suggested that big psychological hurdles remain to be overcome before it becomes a commonplace occurrence in most workplaces.

This year's National Technology Readiness Survey found that although a quarter of Americans work for employers with supportive telecommuting policies or jobs that would allow them to work from home, barely more than one in 10 are actually doing so.

What's more, that even those who could work remotely would choose not to do so the majority of the time, with fear of missing out on water-cooler banter and being frozen out of office decision-making looming large in the minds of many.

As Charles Colby, president of technology research firm Rockbridge Associates put it: "it seems the professional and social environment of the workplace still wins out over money and time savings."