Experts: Threefold Increase in Telecommuting Is Sign of the Times

More than just improved technology is driving the practice

By Aliah D. Wright Aug 15, 2016
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Shifts in workforce demographics and priorities—not improved technology—are the main reasons the U.S. has seen a threefold increase in telecommuting during the past 20 years, experts say.

"You have younger employees who are quick to embrace technology … and see no point in doing things the old way," said Nannina Angioni, a labor and employment attorney and partner with Los Angeles-based Kaedian LLP, in an interview with SHRM Online

But being able to work from home one or more days a week appeals to workers of all ages, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) 2016 Employee Benefits research report. That research shows that telework rose nationwide from 20 percent in 1996 to 60 percent in 2016.

More employers are seeing this as a relatively inexpensive perk that improves work/life balance, according to SHRM. In another study from California research firm Global Workplace Analytics, 95 percent of employers said the ability to telework has a significant positive impact on employee retention, too.

There has definitely "been a shift toward work/life balance," said Angioni, who works with clients on workplace policy and regulation. "Teleworking provides employees with flexibility as to how and when they complete their work. As long as the work gets done, employers are more flexible when it comes to time and location."

Telework's Appeal

"Telecommuting is also particularly appealing to workers living in big cities with consistently heavy rush-hour traffic," Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM, stated in a news release.

"Technological advances over the past 20 years have made this shift possible," Esen added.

Vik Chadha, founder and CEO of HiveDesk, a Louisville, Ky.-based software company that helps companies manage remote workers, agreed. "Telework is becoming popular across many industries but more so in industries like software, digital marketing and creative services," he said. "A talent crunch in industries like software and digital marketing, coupled with increasing demand, is forcing companies to look beyond their local markets. So an agency in New York may find it easier to hire a worker in a smaller city or even another country."

Monitoring Teleworkers

For those companies concerned about teleworkers satisfactorily completing their assignments, experts say managers can do a number of things to make sure remote employees are doing the jobs they've been hired to do.

"Leaders of virtual teams need to clearly set expectations for their employees, have a way to measure virtual performance and hold people accountable for results," said Antoinette Forth, president and chief operating officer of New York-based Walkabout Collaborative LLC, which provides a virtual online workspace for enterprise teams. "Similar to the days when the boss watched what time you arrived and left work, being chained to your virtual screen is no indication of how well you will perform. Managers and employees need to change their mindset to outcome-based performance measures."

Chadha said Skype, Google Hangouts, and other tools for monitoring and communicating with teleworkers help companies manage these workers more effectively.

Added Angioni: "Monitor an employee's deliverables. Set realistic goals. An employee should know what he/she is expected to accomplish on any given workday. If the employee is delivering the work product on time [and] on budget and meeting quality control standards via teleworking, the system manages itself."

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