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In 2009 Forrester Research predicted that more than half the workforce would be teleworking by 2016:

“Fueled by broadband adoption, better collaboration tools, and growing management experience, the U.S. telecommuting ranks will swell to 63 million by 2016. Those 29 million new telecommuters lined up five abreast would stretch from New York to LA! Leading the surge are occasional telecommuters and regular telecommuters who work from home between one and four days a week.”

Lots of other respected organizations have made similar projections.

Well, call me a skeptic, but while I’d love nothing better than to see an end to traffic jams, I just don’t see it happening any time soon.

For those of us who are lucky enough to work where and when we want, it’s easy to forget that the majority of the workforce doesn’t. They’re bound to the cubicle farm with tethers that date back to the days of sweatshops and typing pools. Those tethers, a.k.a. managers, simply can’t imagine not being able to see the backs of their employee’s heads from 9 to 5 each day.

My organization, the Telework Research Network, just completed a study that looked at telework trends over the past five years. Sponsored by Citrix Online, our summary report, The State of Telework in the U.S., reveals who’s really teleworking, what they’re doing, and where they’re doing it. We even dared to make a prediction of our own–but it’s one that’s sure to disappoint the true believers, advocates, and companies hoping to cash in on the trend.

First for the good news. Telework is growing. In fact, based on U.S. Census data 61% more employees considered home their primary place of work in 2009 than in 2005, despite the recession. While the full story on the impact of the recession won’t be known until 2010 Census data is available, private sector survey data just released by WorldatWork, suggests that while the overall number of teleworkers declined between 2008 and 2010, the frequency of telework increased.

Now the bad news. Census data shows that only 2.9 million employees work from home more than half the time (not including the self-employed). That’s only 2.3% of the workforce. So while 61% growth sounds impressive, it has more to do with how low the number was five years ago than any kind of a wholesale change in the way we work.

How can it be that while 80% of Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” already offer telecommuting, so few people are doing it on a regular basis? Again, I say, if you’re lucky enough to workshift regularly, count your blessings. While a majority of large companies say they offer telework, it’s largely granted as an occasional accommodation for only a handful of employees. Our study in fact showed that over 75% of employees who work from home earn over $65,000 per year, putting them in the upper 80 percentile of the workforce.

Employees want to telework– according to WorldatWork, almost 80% of would do so at least part of the time if allowed. The tools and technologies to support it are widely available, inexpensive, and easy to use. But most companies simply don’t have the culture of trust that comes from measuring performance by what people do rather than when, where, or how they do it.

In his bestselling book, Drive, Dan Pink observes “…despite four decades of scientific research on human motivation, there’s an immense mismatch between what science knows and what management does.”

He goes on to say, “…while the carrots and sticks worked successfully in the 20th century, it’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people today.”

It’s time for managers to wake up from their “management by walking around” stupor. Fact is, their employees have already left the building. According to a recent DEGW survey of 60,000 worldwide employees, knowledge workers are not at their desk 65% of the time. So how’s that whole management by walking around thing working? Not so good, I’d guess. If fact, as Pink and the majority of management gurus have been telling us for years, it really never did.

What employees of all age groups want is the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how they work.

They want to be trusted.

They want to do their best and feel that they’re a part of greater whole.

They want to be treated like adults.

And if they can’t get what they want, they’ll go somewhere else or venture out on their own.

This is not your grandfather’s workforce.

You can download a copy of The State of Telework in the U.S. report here.

Photo Credit: TylerIngram

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  • http://twitter.com/thomasgetchius Tom Getchius

    Thank you for this post! I am a manager in a major metro area responsible for the work of three individuals. They all have the opportunity to telework but choose not to, mainly because they live close to our office. I telecommute two days a week and love it! We’ve outlined policies, procedures, and best practices which make our telecommuting relationship, especially since I’m their manager, successful. 

  • Johnnylucid

    Good luck with any of this:

    What employees of all age groups want is the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how they work.
    They want to be trusted.
    They want to do their best and feel that they’re a part of greater whole.
    They want to be treated like adults.happening in a collective bargaining situation in local government, such as here in Montgomery County, Maryland (NOT a right-to-work state)

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