Despite Yahoo’s stand, survey shows telecommuting is here to stay

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Telecommuting is here to stay despite stands against it by such companies as Yahoo. At least that’s the pulse in a national poll of 120 human resources executives conducted by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

The survey, taken in the days following Yahoo’s widely reported and controversial plan to bring work-at-home employees back to the office, found that 80 percent of the executives said their companies currently offer some form of telecommuting. Ninety-seven percent of respondents told Challenger there are no plans to eliminate the benefit.

“When major companies like Yahoo and Best Buy make notable policy changes, there is no doubt that other employers will take notice and some may even re-evaluate their policies.  However, it would be misguided to assume that other companies will follow blindly without considering their own unique circumstances,” John A. Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.

The latest statistics from the Telework Research Network indicate that 3.1 million people —not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers — considered home to be their primary place of work in 2011. While that’s up 73 percent since 2005, it still represents just 2.5 percent of U.S. nonfarm payrolls.  It is estimated that as many as 64 million U.S. employees (just under 50 percent of the workforce) hold a job that is compatible with telework.

“However, just because a job is compatible with telework, does not mean the person holding that job is. Not every worker has the discipline and self-motivation to work from home on a regular basis, which makes it nearly impossible to have a blanket policy,” Challenger said.

Most companies surveyed by Challenger did not have a blanket telecommuting policy.  Less than 10 percent of employers offered telecommuting to all workers. About 40 percent offer telecommuting opportunities to some employees.  Another 30 percent do not have a formal telecommuting program but permit some employees to work from home some days.

The need to examine telecommuting on a case-by-case basis was, in fact, the primary change in Best Buy’s recent policy shift.  According to reports, Best Buy’s telecommuting policy —  in place since 2005 —allowed any of its 4,000 non-store employees to work from home whenever they wanted without approval from a supervisor.  The new policy requires workers to get their supervisor’s okay.

“Best Buy obviously still recognizes that there is value in allowing telecommuting, or it would have simply terminated the program entirely.  However, the company also recognizes the need to maintain tighter control over the telecommuting work force.  Just because some workers are more productive when they work from home does not mean that every employee is,” said Challenger.

Increased productivity is one of the leading reasons for allowing employees to work from home, according to the Challenger survey.  Respondents also cited the desire to help employees achieve better work-life balance. Other top reasons for telecommuting included increased morale and lowering office costs.

Among the respondents who indicated that they may or already have eliminated telecommuting, the driving factors were decreased collaboration and increased animosity among those who were not permitted to telecommute.

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