Though telecommuting has been around for decades, the ability to work remotely and access company information in real-time via mobile devices and apps is now a fact of life for many.
The concept has evolved from simply enabling employees to work from home to now allow for more regular, frequent and flexible telecommuting – the ability to work from anywhere and at anytime.
This is partly due to the increase in cloud-based data and systems, and the rapid pace at which technology is advancing. It’s also due to the fact that many employees are demanding the freedom to work remotely.
In this first of a 2-part series, we’ll look at the habits and preferences of these first-generation telecommuting employees, workers who have been working remotely for ten years or more, and their thoughts on how the rest of society works today.
Who are remote workers?
According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace 2017 report, telecommuting is more popular than ever. In 2016 alone, there were 27 million people employed by companies that allowed them to work outside the office. Of those who work remotely, 36.3% say they have never worked in an office setting. Millennials make up a large chunk of this growing contingent of people working remotely. This is, in part, due to the fact that they have grown up with technology and are more comfortable with it than any generation before them.
According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 51% of Millennial workers are open to the idea of working remotely, compared to 41% of Generation Xers and 38% of Baby Boomers.
In fact, the term “Millennial” has been used to describe not only those born between 1981 and 2000, but also those born between 1977 and 1995. So, depending on which definition you use, the number of Millennials who would consider telecommuting could be a lot higher.
In addition to their comfort level with technology, another reason Millennials tend to be more open to telecommuting is that they are the generation that grew up with the internet and social media. They’ve come of age in a digital era, and are more likely to feel comfortable working in this environment than any previous generation. The Millennials aren’t the only ones embracing the concept of working remotely.
According to NBER, 17.4% of Baby Boomers and 13.4% of Generation Xers also say they would consider working outside the office.
How are these remote workers getting work done?
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace 2017 report (SOAW) stated that the majority of telecommuters work is performed from home, but almost 15% is done from a coworking space. About a third work from a coffee shop, while 9% work from a hotel, and 7% from a restaurant.
The report also shows that in an attempt to keep employees connected to their colleagues and to the company, many companies are now allowing employees to work from a local coffee shop or restaurant. This way, employees can still feel a part of the company, even if they are working remotely.
As a result of this changing workplace, the world of work is significantly different than it was just a decade ago. The workforce is more mobile, and employees are more connected to the companies they work for. In addition, there are more companies offering remote work than ever before.
According to Staffing Industry Analysts, the number of work-at-home jobs has jumped from about 654,000 in 1999 to more than 2 million in 2019. In addition, the number of companies offering work-from-home opportunities increased from 600,000 in 1999 to 35 million in 2020.
These statistics show us that with the rise of remote work, companies have been able to compete for and hire the best workers, even if they don’t live close to the office.
But this new work style comes with a new set of challenges. Companies need to rethink their recruitment, performance management and communication strategies, and the way they create a sense of community among their teams. They also need to ensure they are doing everything they can to retain and engage their telecommuting employees.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the benefits and challenges of hiring and retaining telecommuters, and the measures companies can take to create a sense of community for these employees.