Telecommuting is becoming more prevalent, driven by technological advances, changing family dynamics, health concerns, and other factors. Also referred to as teleworking and remote working, telecommuting is a flexible arrangement that enables employees to avoid commuting or traveling to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse, or store. Instead, they work--completely or partially--from home or another off-site location.
According to the Census Bureau's 2018 American Community Survey, 4.7 million Americans regularly work from home, up 173 percent since 2005. This group--which does not include the self-employed population--works from home at least half the time and represents roughly 3 percent of the workforce.
Forty percent more US companies offered remote work as an option in 2018 than they did five years ago, according to research-based consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. And the growth in telecommuting has taken place ten times faster than in other fields of work. That's a testament to how increasingly popular remote work is becoming.
Telecommuting is taking place across almost every industry, according to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. Many people have jobs that involve sitting in front of a keyboard, using a phone, and other tasks that easily can be done remotely. Telecommuting is especially popular in the technology and healthcare fields, as well as with certain geographic regions and ages. "We are seeing trends more toward rural areas and with millennials who are starting to have children and are wanting to move out of the more urban environments," says Lister.
Age wise, telecommuting is more common among employees above the age of 35 and Baby Boomers, according to Global Workplace Analytics. The average telecommuter is 46 or older, has a bachelor's degree, and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker. And roughly the same population of women and men telecommute.
So what's fueling the growth of telecommuting? Most recently the coronavirus, specifically COVID-19, is driving much of the increase, Lister says. Health officials, physicians, as well as city and state leaders are encouraging companies to allow employees to work from home whenever possible to minimize the spread of the disease in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management issued a statement recommending employers consider the following preventive measures: "Actively encourage sick employees to stay home, send symptomatic employees home until they are able to return to work safely, and require employees returning from high-risk areas to telework during the incubation period."
Historically, the top drivers for remote work have fluctuated over the years based on the circumstances. "During the recession, it was saving money," Lister explains. "Right now, it's attracting and retaining talent. In some countries, sustainability leads the charge. After a crisis, it's resilience and disaster preparedness."
However, the best telecommuting outcomes, Lister says, can be achieved among companies that approach remote work as a strategic initiative and involve all functional units in its...