You probably know one. Or maybe you are one: a telecommuter, a work-at-home employee or a virtual commuter. Amazingly, in just over a decade, the number of U.S. employees working from home-based offices ‘at least half the time’ has reached 3.9 million, or nearly three percent of the American workforce.
These statistics are part of the results released this past summer in The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report—a project undertaken by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs. To compile their report on the decade 2005-2015, the companies partnered to collect and analyze data from both the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Results indicate a 50-50 male-female split with the average remote worker over 45 years old, with “at least a bachelor’s degree, [earning] a higher median salary than an in-office worker”. According to the 2017 report, most telecommuters “average yearly income is $4,000 more than non-commuters”.
And what’s more, working in the category of ‘management professional’ is now the most popular stay-at-home position.
Although Canada has been slower to embrace the idea of virtual commuting, its numbers are also on the rise. On the website CanadiansInternet.com/Business, writer Melody McKinnon wrote about the most recent statistics from The 2013 Arcus Human Capital Survey. According to survey results, she explained that, “18 percent of employed Canadians say they telecommute to one degree or another”.
McKinnon also quoted Steve Murphy, senior vice-president of commercial banking for the Bank of Montreal, who focused on the positives of teleworking. “These flexible work arrangements help employees achieve greater work-life balance, improve workplace productivity and strengthen employee morale.”
But regardless of the impressive statistics and positive line graphs indicating an increase in the stay-at-home employee numbers, the stereotypical disregard for this kind of work--and the resulting stress on home-workers--is not yet decreasing at an equivalent inverse rate.
While improved technology makes working at home easier, allowing for a greater work-life balance, a recent joint study by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) and Eurofund found several downsides to the choice. According to the report released in February, “People teleworking have a tendency to work longer hours, and have higher levels of stress as a result of overlapping paid work and personal life.”
The U.N. report, titled Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work, also showed a surprising 42 percent of remote workers indicated that they suffered from insomnia, compared to only 29 percent of in-office workers.
Some home-based workers are better able to balance their work-life selves while others the report labels “high-mobile workers”, a group less able to maintain the same balance, result in telecommuters with the potential for increasingly negative physical and mental health results.
The U.N. report recommends employers encourage and recognize the importance of more formal part-time “teleworking so that people working from home can maintain their ties with co-workers and improve their well-being”.
Similarly, in a June 2017 article, CNN reporter Kathryn Vasel quoted Sara Sutton Fell, Chief Executive Officer of FlexJobs, on this growing class of worker: "There is still this stigma . . . that telecommuting is just a work-from-home mom thing or for lower level jobs or not as dedicated workers".
Vasel added that findings from the 2017 State of Telecommuting report help disprove the stigma. According to the report, “Professional, scientific and technical services industries have the highest percentage of telecommuters relative to their share of the workforce.”
CEO Sutton Fell was also quick to denounce the archaic view, adding, "[Working at home] is a very professional and viable option and it's not going anywhere."
Positive statistics indeed, but trying to manage the stress, insomnia, and telecommuting im-balance these surveys have identified presents a real challenge. In an effort to address these challenges, Linda Wasmer Andrews provided a top 10 list of solutions to manage work-at-home stress in an article for PsychologyToday.com. Andrews prefaced her list with a poke at telecommuter hopefuls, writing, “Working from home sounds so laid-back and stress-free. Then you try it.”
To reduce stress and improve work-life balance, Andrews says it is important to:
- Establish boundaries and claim territory—set firm times and locations within the house when you cannot be disturbed by family or friends. Use allotted office space and equipment for work only.
- Meet and manage deadlines—make to-do lists and rank items from most urgent to least; break down large projects into manageable chunks; avoid procrastinating by diving into the work; find a babysitter, if necessary.
- Meet with colleagues—avoid social isolation and loneliness by keeping up with work interactions; join networking groups.
- Count your blessings—there are so many positives to the work-at-home opportunity. And remember that home-based does not mean super human. If you need help--professional help for stress/anxiety, assistance from colleagues, or help from family to get chores done—ask for it.
- Go “home” after work. While it is tempting to keep working on a project long past a reasonable time, working at home means when you close the door or walk away from the “office”, you leave it alone until the next day. And sleep.
Andrews, L.W., (November 5, 2011). Psychology Today. 10 Solutions for Work-at-Home Stress. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201111/10-solutions-work-home-stress
Global Workplace Analytics & FlexJobs. (Retrieved November 13, 2017). The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report. https://www.flexjobs.com/2017-State-of-Telecommuting-US/
McKinnon, M., (April 12, 2017). Remote Hiring, Virtual Employment and Telecommuting in Canada. http://canadiansinternet.com/mobile-virtual-commuting-telecommuting-increasing-in-canada/
UN News Centre. (February 15, 2017). Teleworking may seem easier, but it could disrupt your work-life balance—UN reports. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56176#.WgvoIsYZNp8
Vasel, K., (June 21, 2017). CNN. Working from home is really having a moment. http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/21/pf/jobs/working-from-home/index.html