June 13, 2012

Who Is the Typical U.S. Teleworker?

You work at a location that's not your office. You're a teleworker, right? I've been one for more than 20 years. And because I use voice calls, e-mail, Web conferencing, audio conferencing and occasionally video conferencing - all components of unified communications (UC) - I consider myself a UC teleworker.

But just who is the typical U.S. teleworker?

A June 2011 report from Global Workplace Analytics (formerly Telework Research Network), titled, "The State of Telework in the U.S.: How Individuals, Business and Government Benefit," sheds some light on this question. Studying the U.S. teleworker can help the enterprise determine which individuals will be good candidates for teleworking and how they might affect the use of UC.

The report, compiled from a number of information resources, focuses on the non-self-employed who primarily work from home, describing the typical teleworker as "49 years old, college-educated, salaried, non-union employee in a management or professional role, earning $68,000 a year at a company with more than 100 employees." This description appears to define good candidates for delivering UC to the teleworker.

The report also offers these observations:

  Part-time teleworking is possible for 45% of the U.S. workforce.

•  Fifty million employees who would like to telework hold jobs that allow it, but only 2.9 million actually telework.

•  Assuming no acceleration in the teleworking growth rate, 69% more people will be teleworking by 2016, nearly 4.9 million total. This could change with the increasing cost of commuting, new business and government policies, and greater acceptance by management.

  Private-sector organizations account for 76% of teleworkers, a reduction from 81% in 2005. The drop is explained by a huge jump in government (chiefly federal) teleworking, which rose more than 400% from 2005 to 2009.

  The larger the organization, the more likely teleworking will be allowed and promoted.

  Unionized organizations are less likely to offer teleworking.

  More people telework than take public transportation in 20 of the nation's largest metropolitan areas.

  There are 2.9 million teleworkers who collectively save about 390 million gallons of gas a year. At today's price, that's over $1,400 a year.

•  The types of locations where telework takes place vary widely.

  City size doesn't correlate with percentage of teleworkers. New York City, for example, has the third-lowest percentage of teleworkers, 2.1%.

  The highest level of teleworking - 4.2% - is in the San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos (California) area.

•  Detroit-Warren-Livonia (Michigan) has the lowest teleworker percentage of large metropolitan areas at 1.8%.

  The fastest telework growth - a 77% increase since 2005 - occurred in Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario (California).

What Stimulates Teleworking Growth?

Some reports seem to conclude that the percentage of those teleworking might not rise significantly in the future. Others are more optimistic. The stimuli for the growth in federal government teleworking were the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Katrina and a federal policy promoting teleworking. The $3.00 price of a gallon of gas boosted teleworking in 2005; today's $3.55-plus price will likely push even more workers into teleworking.

What Could Hold Teleworking Back?

What deters teleworking growth? On the management side, it's mainly distrust of the remote worker ("How do I know they're really working?"). This can be overcome by policy changes, training of management and remote workers, and possibly the use of presence technology to determine remote workers' real-time status. On the employee side, many resist working alone, fearing they will miss the social interactions at work or require supervision.

Whatever the reasons pro or con, teleworking is sure to increase as organizations are increasingly populated by younger workers who are the heaviest users of mobile devices.

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1 Comment

Gary, interesting stats. As a long-time teleworker and network security professional involved in remote access, it's interesting to see how teleworking has morphed into mobility. Back in the day, teleworking meant working from a desk in a home office. Today, teleworking seems to mean working somewhere other than a corporate office, but it's no longer clear that's in a fixed location. In fact, I wonder how wise it is to design solutions for teleworkers who aren't mobile - why not assume all teleworkers might need the ability to work from anywhere?

I found this stat particularly interesting: "Fifty million employees who would like to telework hold jobs that allow it, but only 2.9 million actually telework."

It seems like many traditional teleworker barriers have fallen. Supporting technologies are more available, less expensive, and far easier to use than they once were. Workers are accustomed to interacting with each other remotely, and employers have well-understood financial and other motivations to not just allow but promote teleworking. I wonder if teleworking has in fact stagnated: Those who want to and can already do (at least part-time). The rest are held back by barriers that are less tangible, more rooted in feelings and perceptions, and so not easily overcome by policy or technology updates.

Case in point: A large enterprise where employees routinely participate in meetings by conference call, even when working "at the office." Everyone uses UC to be (or at least appear) constantly connected and available to colleagues. However, employees with corporate offices resist becoming "home based" for reasons like they'll lose the office they've had for years and would be stuck in a shared cubicle during on-site visits, or they'll be less visible at a time when job security at risk and being visibly productive is reassuring.

I don't think these "human factors" disappear for younger workers - they just get replaced by a new set of concerns such as "I need to rub elbows with senior management by attending meetings in person." For this reason, I think younger workers are likely to fully embrace and demand mobility, but not full-time teleworking. I look forward to reading "The State of Telework in the US" about 5 years from now!

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