Last year, The Conference Board published a report on the upward trend of teleworking, The Incredible Disappearing Office, and its implications on business. Using the American Community Survey, the report found slow but steady growth in the percent of full-time employees working from home, rising from 1.1 percent in 2000 to 1.4 percent in 2005, with an average annual change of about 0.05 percent. After 2005, the trend began to accelerate, increasing by an average of 0.1 percent each year, reaching 2.1 percent in 2010. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1: Percent of full-time employees working primarily from home (2000 – 2011)
With the release of the 2011 American Community Survey, we revisit this phenomenon and find that the trend has maintained its pace over the last five years, increasing by 0.1 percent annually. In 2011, an estimated 2.2 percent of full-time employees worked primarily from home.
However, the percent of employees working from home is far from uniform across the labor force. Even among the occupations most likely for employees to telework, there is a great level of variability, ranging from 6.3 percent to 47.4 percent among the top 24 occupations. (See Figure 2)
Figure 2: Percent of full-time employees working primarily from home, by select occupations, 2010 - 2011
A brief look at the above table immediately highlights three types of workers most likely to telework:
The “Traveling Salesman”
Sales engineers and representatives are among the most likely to telework, with 16 and 11 percent, respectively, working primarily from home. One explanation for this situation is that a company sales force can often do most of its primary function, such as calling and talking to prospective customers, remotely or from home.
However, this isn’t necessarily the case for many other occupations, for which communication beyond talking on the telephone is critical. For example, management analysts and consultants, travel agents, financial examiners, and appraisers are also more likely to telework.
What these occupations have in common is the above-average tendency to travel for work, which often renders permanent office space inefficient and unnecessary. For example, a sales rep that spends three out of the five days traveling to prospective clients would most likely not need a desk space reserved just for him. Moreover, workers already equipped to work remotely at client sites are also better prepared to work remotely from home.
“The Tech Expert”
Unsurprisingly, the tech-savvy occupations, such as computer network architects, scientists, IT analysts, and programmers, are all very likely to work from home. Their day-to-day tasks don’t just rely on telecommunications—it is often to ensure it. Even if their job functions are unrelated to telecommunications, those in highly technical occupations are more comfortable with new technologies and are less likely to face anxieties that older or less practiced workers may face.
There remains a small group of occupations for which being tech savvy or traveling is not a typical requisite, but who may also thrive in a teleworking environment. For individuals whose work is often independent and benefits from a quiet workspace, the solitude of one’s own home can be as, or even more, conducive to success than an office environment. Medical transcriptionists, for example, spend hours listening to recordings and transcribing them into an electronic document. An office full of collaborative chatter may actually be disruptive to such work. Moreover, for writers, editors, and transcriptionists, the fruits of their labor are often easily shared and delivered through even the most basic telecommunication tools (e.g. email).
As more advanced applications, such as real-time video conferencing and cloud services, become more accessible to employees, virtual communication will become only more seamless. Yet today, only a small numberl of fairly niche occupations, which share similar characteristics, show a significantly higher likelihood to work from home than the average worker. While we expect the adoption of telework programs to increase with employers as a method of cost savings and benefit to attract and retain talent, concerns over how productive and collaborative a teleworking employee will be will remain a persistent obstacle for most companies.