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What is Telecommuting and What are the Ways it is Changing the Modern Workforce?

What is Telecommuting and What are the Ways it is Changing the Modern Workforce?

Tom Gerencer
Reading time: 10 minutes
More and more Americans are telecommuting - about 43% in fact - for a number of reasons. As we’ll explore in this article, telework is credited with raising productivity and promoting employee engagement. It also saves time and money for employees and companies while promoting a better, healthier quality of life and providing cheaper labor.
But what is telecommuting exactly? Is someone who works from home just half a day each week a telecommuter? Does telework mean the same thing as e-commuting, remote work, coworking, work from home, or mobile work? Below, we clear up the top-line facts about telecommuting, why it’s gaining in popularity, and some pitfalls to avoid and tips for success if you’re curious about making the leap.

What is telecommuting?

Telecommuting is working from a remote location other than an office. That may mean working from home, a cafe, or anywhere else. Chances are if a job can be done from an office building or a cubicle, it can be done as mobile work.

What’s the difference between working remotely and telecommuting?

There’s no difference between the two terms; working remotely and telecommuting. Either can be done as much as full time or as little as half a day a week. Both terms mean the employee is working from somewhere other than a brick-and-mortar company facility, usually via the internet.
Here are a few other terms that mean the same thing as telecommuting or working from home.

Telecommuting synonyms:

  • E-commuting
  • Working offsite
  • Remote work
  • Virtual job
  • Mobile work
  • Flex work
  • Digital nomad
  • Stay-at-home mom/dad
  • Telework
  • Flexible workplace

Telecommuting facts and statistics

A staggering 43% of Americans now telecommute at least some of the time, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. That’s up 35% from 2008 and 10% from 2012. If remote work keeps gaining popularity at the current rate, almost half of all Americans will telecommute by 2020.
That’s not to say that half of us will work from home all week. Only 13% of employees did that in 2016 - worked remotely at least 80% of the time. That’s up from 10% in 2012. If that rate of increase holds, by 2020 almost 20% of all US employees may never set foot inside an office.

More remote work

Put another way, more than 20 million Americans now telework for most of their work week. That’s 1 in 8 employees, and by 2020 it may be more like 1 in 5. And it’s not just call center workers anymore. Radiologists are among the top-paid work-from-home employees, and about 103,000 US federal employees telecommuted in 2009.
Nearly half of all business managers now work from home sometimes, and it’s no wonder. Cisco estimates it saves an annual $277 million by letting employees telecommute.

Telecommuting technology: a sea change

The biggest reason you may work from home soon is technology. The business mantra of “there’s no substitute for face-to-face” wears thinner every year, thanks to advancements like 5G connectivity, remote desktops, virtual reality, and augmented reality.
Media richness theory, or the idea that in-person interaction is more robust, is why telework hasn’t gained traction faster. Tone of voice and visual cues are lost. Communications are more ambiguous via email. There is no immediate feedback. But is that still true?

Faster connections and remote desktops

Until recently, videoconferencing and remote meetings were prone to spotty service, buffering issues, and other hiccups. Now, blazingly-fast 5G speeds and gigabit WiFi serve up a “being-there” experience. 4K TVs and monitors can make you feel like you’re right in the same room.
“I’m out of pocket” has begun to lose its meaning too. Remote desktops and virtual desktops let telecommuters log into office machines from cafes, airplanes, or back patios. We’re never more than a few seconds from any file or folder we need. Plus, advances in remote working security mean we don’t have to give up safety to work from home.

10 benefits of telecommuting

What is an advantage of allowing employees to telecommute? Increased productivity, better morale, cost savings, and higher employee engagement. Work-from-home jobs also give workers more free time while they slash commutes to zero. Here’s a list of the benefits of working from home:

Increased productivity

A study cited in the Harvard Business Review found that work-from-home employees do the equivalent of an extra day of work per week. Telecommuting employees spend less time in meetings or sitting idle at desks or by the water cooler. Remote workers can schedule work hours to sync up with the most productive hours of the day.

Better employee engagement

Work from home employees are engaged employees. According to a Gallup survey of the American workforce, work-from-home employees are 31% more likely to feel engaged in doing what they do best. They’re also 27% more likely to feel they have the resources to get their jobs done, and they have a 27% higher chance of feeling like their opinions matter.

More time

Teleworkers have more time than traditional office-based employees. For one, they don’t commute. The average US employee spends an hour a day in a car or on public transportation. That’s about 250 hours a year. Erasing a commute would give most of us an extra 12% of work time per year. Not to mention less traffic congestion and air pollution.

Better morale

Telecommuting employees report being happier with their jobs. That’s probably from a mix of increased flexibility, more time spent with family, and more natural light. Remote workers can get out for an hour or two during daylight hours. That’s been found to promote better sleep and a higher overall quality of life.

Money savings for companies

Can letting employees work remotely save money for businesses? It can, according to research. We previously referenced a report from Cisco that says the company saves $277 million per year by letting their workers telecommute. It’s estimated that letting a single employee work from home saves a business $10,000 every year. That means a company with 100 remote workers saves $1 million annually on costs like real estate and infrastructure.

Better quality of life

Aside from less commuting, more time with family and pets, and a more comfortable work environment, telecommuting creates freedom of geography. More people are moving to states with smaller populations and outdoor lifestyles. States like Oregon, Idaho, North Carolina, Maine, and Florida are seeing a massive influx of new residents. Meanwhile, high-population states like California, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are seeing a mass exodus.

Higher employee retention

Remote employees stick around longer. They don’t tend to switch jobs when they move to a new house or state. It’s also easier for telecommuters to have families without leaving their jobs. Teleworkers also like the flexibility of remote work, often rewarding it with loyalty.

Cheaper labor

Employees who work from home are willing to accept up to 30% smaller salaries than their non-telecommuting counterparts. That gives companies a double benefit because organizations already save money by not having the employee work in-house.

Healthier employees

Working from home creates a healthier lifestyle for employees. With less commuting, telecommuters have opportunities to get more exercise. They can also skip the fast food and the car snacks and opt for healthier choices from the fridge. Plus, work-from-home employees tend to get more daylight in their lives, which has been proven to boost wellness.

Better work-life balance

Telecommuting may make it easier for employees to balance family and work life. Today, it’s not unusual for a stay-at-home dad or mom to peck away at a computer while the kids play in the other room. On the other end of the spectrum, teleworkers with ailing parents increasingly have the option to spend flex days in a nursing home or stroke rehab facility, continuing to earn a living while they advocate for mom or dad.

Telecommuting pitfalls

Does telecommuting have its downsides? You bet it does. HP Tech Takes spoke to Jessie Rice, single mom and owner of her own software development business. She says the biggest risk is to her social skills. “You can go crazy,” she says. “You never get the chance to interact with a real human.”
To shake off the interpersonal rust, Jessie gets out and kayaks on whitewater rivers in her chosen home-base of West Virginia. “I try to get out at least two or three days a week,” she says. She also schedules regular in-person meetings with clients and attends business conferences to keep her EQ skills sharp.

Less human interaction

Not every work from home employee is as lucky as Jessie, with class V whitewater rivers in her backyard and the skills to use them. But most can spend at least some of their telework getting much-needed human interaction in public places like cafes, lunch counters, or libraries. Coworking spaces - designed specifically for remote workers - offer another way to get back a little water cooler elbow-rubbing.

Lack of boundaries

One more drawback of working from home is boundaries. Since you’re home, it can seem like it’s okay for the kids to come in and play with mom or dad or for a spouse to ask for help with household chores. It’s important to set up a dedicated work space and make family members aware of working hours.

Fewer opportunities for team-building

Finally, remote employees are less likely to feel like part of the team. They’ve got 35% less chance to feel like they get feedback from coworkers and are 30% less prone to feel like they matter to their bosses.

Telecommuting jobs

Work-from-home jobs are on the rise across most industries, including finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and even retail and transportation. Below is a list of industries where remote work is becoming more and more the norm.
Image source: Gallup
For a list telecommuting jobs available in the US today plus a full rundown on the average salary for many of these popular work-from-home jobs, scroll to the bottom of this article.

How to get a telecommuting job

Curious about how to work remotely? It’s easier than ever to get telecommuting jobs, but there’s a trick. Big companies like Yahoo and Best Buy are increasingly pulling the plug on teleworkers. On the flip side, startups and small companies - that make up about half of the US workforce - use remote employees more and more to drive their agile business models.
The solution for getting a remote job may be to avoid big companies. Unfortunately, big corporations dominate job search sites like Indeed and Monster, so what can you do? Just Google the word “remote” and your job title, plus the word “jobs.” Google will display a blue bar with 3 sample job listings and the words “100+ more jobs.” Click that blue bar to see a ton of work-from-home jobs in your field.

Networking for work-from-home jobs

Work-from-home jobs abound, but it can be hard to get a real one amid the spam. “Junk” jobs complicate your search and pay only a few dollars an hour. To get a good remote job, it’s essential to build a network of others like you who already have the kinds of jobs you want. That often means joining a professional association.
For writers, that may mean the ASJA. For software engineers, try IEEE. Got a different line of work? Google-search your job title plus “association.” “Associations are a great way to feel connected and enjoy collaborative benefits when working remotely,” says speaker and fellow HP Tech Takes author Linsey Knerl.
One more tip: When you find a telecommuting job you like, don’t apply for it on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, or other online job boards. Instead, go straight to the company’s hiring page and find the position listed there. If you apply on the company site, your application will get seen by a human being faster. Goodbye, internet black hole.

Work-from-home tips

Are you working in an onsite job but want more flex time? Make a case to your boss for why you’d like to spend one day a week (or half a day a week) working from home. Use the list of benefits of telecommuting above as selling points. After a few months, show increased productivity - numbers don’t lie - and lobby for more flex time.
Finally, if you do land a work-from-home job, give your work space some TLC. For better ergonomics, invest in an Aeron chair or Herman Miller chair if you can afford it. And source a laptop that can go from dim cafes to full daylight without stressing the eyes. For instance, the HP Elite x2 has an optional 1,000-nit display that shows up brilliantly even in direct sunlight.

The new work-from-home world

More of us than ever now have the chance to work from home. By 2020, 1 in 5 Americans will telecommute most of their work week. Work-from-home jobs save time and money for companies and employees, and telecommuting promotes higher productivity and a better quality of life. Increasingly, if you can do your job from a cubicle or office, you can telecommute.

Work from home jobs

  • Accountant: $55,202
  • Actuary: $107,598
  • Assistant Engineer: $68,000
  • Biostatistician: $92,426
  • Bookkeeper: $34,677
  • Business Analyst: $70,170
  • Civil Engineer: $68,638
  • Computer Animator: $61,000
  • Content Creator: $54,455
  • Copy Editor: $45,506
  • Data Analyst: $65,470
  • Data Entry: $31,153
  • DevOps Engineer: $138,378
  • Editor: $61,655
  • Electrical Engineer: $83,088
  • Engineer: $77,182
  • Financial Analyst: $63,829
  • Graphic Designer: $48,256
  • Journalist: $45,925
  • Law Enforcement Transcriptionist: $28,570
  • Legal Transcriptionist: $28,570
  • Marketing Specialist: $42,153
  • Marketing Manager: $93,125
  • Mechanical Engineer: $73,016
  • Medical Transcriptionist: $28,570
  • Photographer: $32,068
  • Proofreader: $36,290
  • Recruiter: $49,712
  • SEO Specialist: $66,848
  • Social Media Specialist/Manager: $54,500
  • Software Engineer: $104,463
  • SQL Developer: $81,714
  • Telework Nurse/Doctor: $76,710–$300,000
  • Translator: $44,190
  • Typist: $27,430
  • UX Designer / UI Designer: $97,460
  • Video Editor: $46,274
  • Virtual Assistant: $22,000
  • Web Designer: $56,143

About the Author

Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.

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