Telecommuting: The Kiss of Career Death?


I was having brunch with my brother and his wife and the topic of careers came up. My sister-in-law commutes a long way to live in the city she loves while also working in her dream job. Since it’s a tech company known for innovation, I asked about the possibility of telecommuting. Her answer was a vehement “No!” adding that telecommuting was the kiss of death for career advancement in her company.

It always baffles me when companies hold on to outdated and ineffective ideas about managing employees and ignore the research. Especially newer, tech-based companies. Recently Yahoo! announced it was ending it’s telecommuting program hoping to increase employee teamwork. Not much later, HP followed suit. Haven’t these companies heard of VoIP or web conferencing?

Telecommuting is green (and many states have financial incentives to put green strategies in place). It saves money. It improves employee morale and productivity. Telecommuting solves a lot of work-place problems. Yet despite all this, many employers still resist telecommuting. A study released last year by the Telework Research Network and sponsored by Citrix Systems found:

  • Perk vs. Standard Practice – Work from home, telecommuting and flex work is still a perk versus an accepted business practice.
  • A typical workshifter is 49 years old, college educated and in a management, senior employee or professional role.
  • Over 75% of employees who work from home earn over $65,000 per year, putting them in the upper 80 percentile relative to all employees.
  • Demand Outpaces Supply – 64 million U.S. employees hold jobs that could be done at home at least part of the time, yet fewer than 3 million, 2.3% of the population, get the chance to work virtually on a regular basis.
  • 50% of all non-teleworkers are interested in working from home.
  • Will Trade Money for Freedom – 37% of non-teleworkers surveyed would take a pay cut to be able to have more independence in where and how they work.
  • Commute Time Is Not a Factor – The study found no correlation between cities with the most congestion or longest commute times and number of workshifters.
  • The San Diego Metro area has the highest concentration of people who work at home, 4.2%, while Detroit and Houston have the lowest, each with 1.8%. The New York metro area rounds out the bottom three, with 2.1%.

Kate Lister, president of the Telework Research Network sums it up when she says, “The reality is that managers simply don’t trust their employees to work untethered. That’s not going to change until companies start measuring performance based on results, rather than the number of hours someone sits at their desk. Management gurus have been telling us for decades that results-based management is the key to maximizing employee potential; and it’s true whether employees are a hundred feet or a hundred miles away.”

Doesn’t it make more sense to measure performance by results instead of how long they’re in the cubicle? Especially since the argument by employers is that they worry the worker will watch soaps all day? Who hasn’t worked in a setting in which people are at the office, but little work is getting done. In fact, telecommuting research indicates telecommuters put more work into their hours than on-site staff.

It’s time a for a shift in thinking. But until it comes, if you’re asking the boss to telecommute, you need to factor in that he/she might think you’re less dedicated to the job and pass you up for career advancement.

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