In a recent blog post of Gad Levanon and Joseph Frantz at CEB, Yahoo! Swims Against the Current as Telework Rates Rise, it was argued that the percentage of employees working from home has more than doubled over the last decade. At the same time, there has been some controversy over the productivity of remote workers, strongly illustrated by Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer’s, recent decision to reconsider the organization’s telework programs.
So what does the future hold for the practice of teleworking?
This blog looks at several trends that may affect the future of teleworking.
1) Improving labor market
As the labor market improves, retention rates are declining and it is becoming more difficult to find qualified applicants for positions. One strategy that companies are leveraging to address these challenges is offering employees the opportunity to work remotely. This strategy not only allows companies to access larger regional and global labor markets, but this more flexible environment also entices workers. Flexible hours are considered an amenity by workers, much like workplace cafeterias or gyms.
2) Work activity and deliverables are becoming more observable and quantifiable
In this new data-driven era, work activities and deliverables are becoming increasingly observable and quantifiable; this allows managers to overcome what has historically been one of the biggest barriers to telework programs: oversight. As organizations learn to leverage new analytic technologies, they can feel more comfortable with employee output measures. Similarly, with remote monitoring tools, managers can track employees’ use of time and use those tools to set clear expectations.
3) Increasing connectivity and tech savvy
The share of households with access to broadband networks has increased dramatically in the past decade. These networks have the ability to allow for seamless communication amongst employees using technologies such as videoconferencing.
At the same time, the labor force is becoming increasingly technologically savvy. Employee comforts with remote work technology are going to increase over time as young, tech-savvy millennials integrate into the workforce.
However, barriers to communication haven’t been the only obstacle for teleworking. In the past, accessing computing resources and organizational data often required an employee to be physically present in the office, but with the introduction and advent of cloud computing, we are now living in a world where one need not be at the same location as the hardware in order to access processing power or data.
4) Rising commercial real estate prices
In recent years, commercial real estate prices have been growing significantly faster than wages. This trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. In the wake of the commercial real estate recovery, businesses have been looking for ways to save on commercial real estate costs. One obvious way to cut down on office space is by allowing employees to telework.
5) Changing workforce demographics
The workforce is aging. According to a study by the Congressional Research Service, the population aged 55 and over is going to grow from 76.5 million in 2010 to 112.4 million in 2030, representing an 8% increase in the percentage of the total population over 55 (from approximately 37% to 45%). Additionally, since the mid 1990’s, the labor force participation rate of that group increased steadily, as older workers delay retirement. Teleworking data shows that older workers are more likely to telework. Thus, the greying labor force suggests more workers teleworking.
We believe that these five trends outlined above (tightening labor markets, introduction of online oversight, increased connectivity, rising real estate costs, and an aging workforce) suggest an increase in the prevalence of teleworking programs in the U.S. workplace going forward. Of course, many managers will still conclude that face-to-face interaction remains crucial. Over time, as experience and research add to their understanding, employers will become more sophisticated regarding which jobs are “teleworkable.” Stay tuned!