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June 26, 2001
Telecommuting Losing Appeal?
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reasingly, the evidence shows that telecommuting hasn't lived up to expectations, according to USA Today.

Reports show employees who telecommute believe the arrangements actually hurt family life and career advancement.

And some supervisors have grown so tired of dealing with telecommuting-related problems that they're revoking the arrangements, the newspaper reports.

"Remember in the 1950s, they said we'd all drive flying cars and work from home? Well, we're not there yet," says Steven MacLaughlin, chief knowledge officer at Indianapolis-based Expidant, an interactive services firm that has chosen not to use telecommuting.

"You can't replace the need to solve a problem by working together, face to face. When you don't have that, it causes problems, and people are just starting to realize that."

USA Today cites government statistics that indicate telecommuting hasn't grown at the clip many experts were predicting in the 1970s. There were 21 million workers in 1997 who did some work at home as part of their primary jobs, a number that grew by just 1.5 million since 1991, according to the Department of Labor.

That reflects only people who did work at home and not necessarily those who were involved in formal telecommuting arrangements for which they were paid. Only 3.6 million employees, or about 3.3 percent of all wage and salary workers, were paid in 1997 for working at home.

Experts interviewed by USA Today gave these reasons for telecommuting getting stuck in the slow lane:

  • Managers remain reluctant to adopt it because of the increasing pace of change in today's workplace, and because teamwork is in vogue.

  • Employees are reticent because they fear working outside the office will hurt career advancement, especially as the economy sours and job cuts mount.

    More than 60 percent of companies that lack formal telecommuting programs say it's because there's no employee demand, according to a survey by the American Management Association.

  • Employers are worried that letting workers telecommute will create security risks by creating more opportunities for computer hackers or equipment thieves.

  • Some telecommuters are reporting that rather than giving them more time with their families, the arrangements actually increase strain by blurring the barriers between the office and home. Co-workers call at all hours, and telecommuters also are more apt to work on vacations or after regular business hours.

    Just 46 percent of telecommuters say they're satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, compared with about 60 percent of non-telecommuters who give their lives such strong marks.

All of this comes as politicians and business leaders increasingly hold up telecommuting as a quick fix for the country's traffic woes and an elixir for employees struggling with work and family demands.

To view the USA Today story, click here.
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