Telecommuting: Good for Productivity, Bad for Career Growth?

April 24, 2013

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While most executives indicate that working from home helps promote productivity and drive employee retention, a majority also agree that telecommuting can limit upward career mobility, according to a new survey by recruitment firm Korn/Ferry.

Marco Torresin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marco Torresin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Telecommuting is an effective way to cut transportation costs, travel time, and contribute to a better work-life balance, a factor that most employees associate with career success. For working parents, having a home office option is also valuable: according to more than 300 respondents surveyed by the Korn/Ferry Institute, 94 percent agreed that telecommuting is “an important option for working parents.”

But according to the same executives, there is also a downside to working offsite: 60 percent indicated that they believe telecommuting “can limit upward mobility,” even though most (80 percent) said their companies allow telecommuting across job categories.

"While working at home can be beneficial for both companies and workers, it can also lead to 'invisibility' that can limit opportunities for career advancement," according to Ana Dutra, CEO of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting. "It is important for telecommuters to remain networked as closely as possible with peers and leaders in the office."

Such advice may be more relevant to specific fields, such as computer, engineering and science occupations, in which home-based work grew 69 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Yet while workers in such occupations run the risk of the invisibility factor at work, a 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests otherwise, indicating that the number of hours spent on telecommuting is “modest,” at around 6 hours per week. Further, studies indicate that working from home is not used as a substitute for working onsite, but rather to accommodate overtime work (or work hours above 40 per week).

And not all workers can readily take advantage of the work office. "The ability to work at home appears to be systematically related to authority and status in the workplace,” according to the Monthly Labor Review.

Employers with telecommuting workers have several options to maintain productivity. The News Observer recently reported that employees at the global research firm RTI International, employees are part of a formal intricate telecommuting program that holds workers accountable for work progress. Tools and software to track and monitor the telecommuting office are also available.  These telecommuting applications confirm whether work breaks are accurate, and employee tasks are on track.

 

What are your views on telecommuting? Let us know in the comments section below.

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