Survey Finds First Decline in Number of U.S. Teleworkers

Those who do telework spent more of their time working remotely

By SHRM Online staff Jun 27, 2011

The total number of U.S. adults who worked from home or another remote location for an entire day at least once a month declined for the first time since WorldatWork began measuring telework in 2003. The U.S. teleworking population in 2010 was 26.2 million, representing nearly 20 percent of the U.S. adult working population, down from 33.7 million in 2008.

The findings, released in Telework 2011: A Special Report from WorldatWork, reveal barriers for employers and employees that have more to do with psychological factors than technology. “The decline in the number of people teleworking is likely due to a combination of things,” said Rose Stanley, work/life practice leader for WorldatWork. “The decline in the overall number of workers due to high unemployment appears to be a factor, along with heightened employee anxiety over job security and a lack of awareness of telework.”

Among key findings from the survey:

  • Teleworkers spent more time working remotely. While the total number of teleworkers decreased, the percentage of teleworkers who work remotely more often than once per week increased. In 2010, 84 percent of teleworkers did so one day per week or more, up from 72 percent in 2008.
  • Typical teleworker profiled. The survey findings provide a demographic profile of today’s teleworker. The typical teleworker is a 40-year-old, male college graduate who works from home. Although “home” maintained its position at the top of the list of common locations for teleworking in 2010, it experienced one of the biggest declines as a remote work location from 2008 to 2010. “Satellite center” and “hotel” trended upward from 2006 to 2010, as did “while on vacation.”
  • Telework seen as “reward.” In a new question of the employee survey, respondents were asked, “In your organization, is being allowed to work remotely considered more of a right or a reward?” Nearly one in three viewed it as a reward or employee benefit.

“Telework is none of the above—right, reward or benefit,” said Kathie Lingle, executive director of WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress. “Rather, it is a business power tool, which, if skillfully applied by properly trained experts within a culture of trust, has been associated with impressive increases in employee engagement, productivity and profitability. It’s green, it’s inexpensive, and it’s good for you, your business and your community, so get with the program.”

Employee data for the report was collected via interviews in December 2010 among 1,002 randomly selected U.S. adults age 18 and older. Employer data was collected in October 2010 by WorldatWork from its membership of HR total rewards professionals.

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