The Evolving Face of the Telecommuter

Remember when telecommuting became all the rage in the U.S. and abroad? During the Sidney Olympics in 2000 the threat of transportation chaos was all over the media, and Australian companies became convinced that telecommuting was going to save their employees from hours of gridlock and headache and would preserve productivity if they could dial in from home. The word telecommuting instantly became the newest catchphrase of business jargon and companies who wanted to be on the cutting edge and attract the newest and greatest, wooed potential employees with the promise of working from home. But what does the face of telecommuting look like thirteen years later?

In March of this year, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer called a moratorium on telecommuting for the internet company. Then a few weeks later Best Buy, an electronics retailer, did the same and wanted its corporate employees who had enjoyed a flexible “performance-based” work schedule to report again to the office. Do the current economic challenges of this country mean that companies are now rejecting the flexibility that they once embraced?

According to the US Census Bureau in 2010, about 4.3 percent of the American workforce worked primarily from home which was up from 2.3 percent 30 years earlier. About 10 percent of workers reported working from home one day a week. The Census results weren’t simple to interpret, says Ravi Gajendran, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, who has written and researched telecommuting extensively.

“The profile of who makes up the population of telecommuters is somewhat murky because different research entities define the term differently,” says Mr. Gajendran. “Researchers have had to triangulate and combine studies to get a picture they can understand. No one alone sums it all up in a satisfying way.”

Computer Man with Clipping PathThe stereotypical portrait of a telecommuter is the career woman who is also a mother and must balance a hectic schedule of home life and work life through the flexibility that telecommuting offers. However, Gajendran and MaryAnne Hyland, associate professor of resource management at Adelphi University, say that telecommuters are more likely to be male than female and typically range between the ages of 35 and 54. They’re also more likely to be white than Hispanic or Black and live in household with $100,000 or more. And despite the steps Yahoo! and Best Buy  took to ban telecommuting earlier this year, positions that offer telecommuting as an option are on the rise.

Although some industries like restaurants or construction will never be able to offer employees the ability to work-from-home, other industries that are knowledge-based like information technology and medical information can benefit from telecommuting. Ms. Hyland says, “It’s not really the industry so much as the type of work within the industry that can be done through telecommuting.”

“The type of work, the amount of telework, the company culture, and the work style of the employee all can affect the success of a telecommuting arrangement,” she says.woman telecommuting cartoon

It would be fascinating to survey companies to find out why more women aren’t taking advantage of their company’s policy of telecommuting or to see if telecommuting is offered as an option for its female employees. Because even though we may associate the telecommuter with a working mother, statistics show that this isn’t the profile of the employee that’s using it. With telecommuter numbers on the rise, it will be interesting to see just who is the future face of telecommuting and if our stereotypes will be changing.



“Telecommuting Has Missed the Bus” Retrieved Oct. 13 2013

“No More Telecommuting? Not a Problem for Most American Workers” Retrieved Oct. 13 2013


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