That's a lot of stats. In a nutshell: Half of us could work remotely if we wanted. Far less do. Why?
The answer might have more to do with psychology than economics. Even if
we're technically more productive at home, we feel more conspicuously
productive at work. You
might think a recession would lead to more telecommuting since it reduces
overhead and increases work hours. Instead, telework among the formally
employed has slowed in the last three years. Ted Schadler, a telecommuting
expert who is vice president and chief analyst at Forrester Research,
suggests the answer might be psychological.
bosses think if they can't see you working, you're not working," he
says. "If you're worried about losing your job, you're going to come
into the office every chance you get."
For me, it comes down to people. The best social technology increases
social connections. Facebook keeps us in touch with far-flung friends.
Twitter broadcasts our internal monologues to the world. Email, texts,
and phones keep us connected even when we're remote. But none of these
things forces us to not be with real live people.
Telecommuting is a choice to be alone. It reduces connections
between workers. It removes us from the world of work and makes it
indistinguishable from the period before and after, which we could
simple call life.
Still, telework has clear benefits. For the employer,
can save office space, utilities and overhead for employee services.
From the worker, it creates more hours for life or desk work. It reduces
travel costs. It has external benefits, like less traffic and quicker
travel for commuters. We talk a lot about building more efficient public
transportation, but the most efficient public transportation is the
technology that lets you work from where you sleep.
Widespread adoption of telework requires three things, Schadler tells me.
First, you need to work in the right industry. The growth of high-tech
information technology jobs should lead to a growth in telecommuting,
which would allow employers to hire the best workers in Florida or
Oregon. Within industries, management culture matters. "In pharma sales,
everybody works at home," he says. "In pharma marketing, everybody
works in the office."
Second, to make remote working really work, you need performance metrics,
because bosses can't manage what they can't measure. "If employers could
measure output [posts per day, tasks per week, etc] they don't care
where you work, or how long you work, as long as you produce the
output," Schadler says.
The third factor is the most important and the hardest to quantify: it's
personal motivation. I could have called Ted and written these
paragraphs from my couch, or the coffee shop across the street from my apartment. Instead,
I chose to walk 15 minutes through the tropical heat because ... well, I
like my colleagues. I like my desk. I like that it is not the same table
where I eat dinner and find funny YouTube videos with my roommates. If
telework increases work-time and "life"-time, it does so at the expense
of a work-life balance.
Tens of millions of Americans obviously disagree. If you're one of them,
leave a note in the comments section. Why do you prefer to work without
"coming in to work"?