16 Jan. 2013 | Comments (3)


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.

The Recluse”

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.


View our complete listing of Labor Markets and Strategic HR blogs.

  • About the Author: Gad Levanon, Ph.D.

    Gad Levanon, Ph.D.

    Gad Levanon serves as chief economist, North America at The Conference Board. He oversees the labor market program, the U.S forecasting program, and the Help Wanted OnLine© program. Le…

    Full Bio | More from Gad Levanon, Ph.D.

  • About the Author: Ben Cheng

    Ben Cheng

    Ben Cheng is an associate economist in the economics department at The Conference Board. He received his undergraduate degree in economics with honors and mathematics at New York University. Ben …

    Full Bio | More from Ben Cheng


3 Comment(s) Comment Policy

Please Sign In to post a comment.
  1. Daria Lamb 0 people like this 16 Jan. 2013 01:59 PM

    While the trend is clearly visible, it is interesting to see that this year's survey shows the continued march forward as this work option increases. I suspect that technology was the turning point in 2005. It will be interesting to see year over year changes to see if the momentum picks up.

  2. Gad Levanon 0 people like this 16 Jan. 2013 03:58 PM

    Thanks Daria.
    In some industries/occupations the trend is faster than in others. We'll write more about this in a future blog.

  3. Tom Schutter 1 person like this 16 Jan. 2013 05:56 PM

    There may be a generational aspect to this trend, but in a counter-intuitive way; that is, older employees teleworking for reasons of health and/or convenience. I'm an economist and suffered a slight stroke several years ago. I was offered the option of working at home three days a week when I fully recovered. I've never looked back. Avoiding a difficult daily commute may be one method to encourage valued employees to stick it out a couple of years longer.