Experts: Growing telecommuting trend doesn't work for everyone
Mar 16, 2013 (Greeley Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As of June 2011, the Telework Research Network reported rising statistics of people working from home, with a 73 percent increase in the practice from 2005 to 2011. Among its other findings:
--A typical telecommuter was 49, college-educated, a salaried, non-union employee in a management or professional role, earns $58,000 a year and works for a company with more than 100 employees.
--More than 300,000 disabled workers were able to work from home because it was considered a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
--Hourly employees were far less likely to telecommute than salaried workers.
--More than 75 percent of employees who work from home earn more than $65,000 per year, putting them in the upper 80 percentile of all employees.
--A year later, the network estimated that current trends showed regular telecommuters will total 4.9 million by 2016, a 69 percent increase from 2012.
Source: Telework Research Network
Years ago, working at home was never an option, unless you signed your own paycheck.
The boss wanted workers in their seats, putting in an honest eight hours every day. That's why there was sick time, or personal leave accommodations.
Over time, trust in employees changed, and working at home became a perk. Then, for some, an expectation.
That was the case for Internet giant Yahoo! -- until recently, when its new CEO banned the practice to bring the collective creative juices under one roof. In Greeley, the news was met with little interest.
Greeley employers have moved with the times, but many say jobs they hire for don't always lend themselves to working at home. While some do agree that working at home is a perk allowed more often, there is no hard-and-fast rule that allows employees to telecommute the majority of their time. Custodians can't clean grounds on the couch; bank tellers are a key point of customer service; nurses can't evaluate patients effectively over the phone. Police can't patrol the streets from their front porch.
"You can't put a lot of work in place at home," said Jeff Wenaas , president and CEO of Hensel-Phelps in Greeley. "A majority of our employees work at the job site. People at offices are support, like accounting, estimating, clerical, and you can't do it from home efficiently.
"For most individuals to be disciplined enough to work at home, it would be hard and distracting," Wenaas said. "There's just too many distractions. I don't even have an office at my house anymore."
Telework Research Network, an independent employment research firm, reports that at-home working grew by 73 percent from 2005-11. This came at the same time that home-based businesses declined 3.2 percent, the Network reports.
Working at home grew the most for federal employees (424 percent), followed by state government employees (114 percent), nonprofit workers (85 percent), local government employees (67 percent) and private employers (63 percent), according to the Network.
But Wenaas' sentiments are more of the norm.
Employers expect a team atmosphere, said Shannon Jantz, branch manager for Apple One employment, 2914 67th Ave. in Greeley.
"It makes everyone that one unit," Jantz said. "You can check in, you can see what people are doing. Most employers want to have someone in the office, but more people are wanting employers to extend the work-from-home options. We have a lot of individuals who come in and ask for it. It cuts down on travel costs, wardrobe, sometimes even childcare, so it's more of an expectation that employees have as it should be a job perk."
Jantz said many potential employees are looking at working at home as a way to cut expenses because wages have not risen.
"When you factor in all of it, the wear and tear on car, gas, wardrobe, lunches and childcare, it can be quite a bit of money," Jantz said.
It's not as if Greeley employers are completely closed to the idea. Many have specific policies addressing how such situations will work.
For the city of Greeley, which is one of Greeley's largest employers, employees sign contracts agreeing to certain expectations when they work from home.
"It's a privilege, not a right," said Sharon McCabe, Human Resources director for Greeley. "It does need to be someone who has kind of earned that privilege. They already know their work ethic and need to figure out what do you want to see as the work product It is something that can be taken away."
At Aims Community College, working at home also is not the norm, but managers will allow it when doing so is mutually beneficial to the college and the employees, said President Marsi Liddell.
"I think it's part of our culture to be flexible when the need arises," Liddell said. She said the perfect example of working at home is playing out now at its Fort Lupton campus, which has some ongoing construction. At the same time, students are on spring break. She said some employees took leave, but others requested to work at home during the break.
For many employers, there's a balance, in which allowing telecommuting is inherent to the job. Still others have other allowances, such as staggered work days, or once-a-week telecommuting options.
It really depends on the relationships built between employers and their staffs.
Professors at the University of Northern Colorado have long had arrangements in which working at home was a key element to the job, and other college employees also are accommodated when the need arises, said Marshall Parks, HR director.
"I've never had an abusive circumstance," Parks said. "Certainly, you have people who are worse or better at their jobs. In 15 years, I can't think of (one) circumstance. If you get your work done, you get it done, regardless of where you get it done."
Jantz said while she sees more employees expecting such perks, she's also seen the reverse, in which employees who've had that work-at-home situation want out.
"It takes a great amount of discipline to work from home, and on top of that, they feel like they never get away from work," Jantz said. "They start to get lonely. They miss the camaraderie they have when they're in the office. They don't have the potlucks, the team atmosphere, someone to share a laugh with or bounce an idea off of. It's just you, the computer and the phone."
She said a couple of years ago, a local call center hired 25-30 employees for specific telecommuting situation. It simply didn't work.
"People weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing. The company wasn't getting the right reports. It made communication difficult. Their model may not have been great, but it was not successful for them."
Time will tell if Yahoo!'s office productivity rises. But Jantz agreed with the move "wholeheartedly."
"For companies, it just builds better morale to have everyone in the office," she said.
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