by Rachel Vilsack
News stories this week and last show some companies stepping back from their telecommuting policies, which allowed workers some flexibility on where they work. Telecommuting is often viewed as beneficial to the employer, employee, and even community (think less traffic congestion), and while the number of telecommuters in Minnesota may be small, their prevalence has increased.
The Census Bureau reports (pdf) that working at home is increasing. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of people working from home at least one day per week increased by 4.2 million people, or 35 percent, nationwide. Those who do work at home are more likely to work in the private sector in computer, engineering, and science occupations, and more likely to live in the Western United States. (Boulder, Colorado has the highest percentage of home-based workers at 10.9 percent!) In 2011, an estimated 139,664 Minnesotans worked at home according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). That accounted for just 5.2 percent of all workers age 16 and over.
eWorkplace, a state-sponsored program for Twin Cities employers interested in telework and the results-only work environment (ROWE) reported participation of 48 Minnesota employers and over 4,200 employees between June 2009 to June 2011. According to their study, three in four employers reported an increase in worker productivity.
Productivity gains–along with better attendance and increased retention–are often cited as benefits from telecommuting policies, but are there any downsides? A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report (pdf) in 2012 found that “…telecommuting in practice expands to meet workers’ needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek.” The meaning: data show that 50 to 67 percent of telecommuters worked more than 40 hours per week, which may mean that employers have higher expectations for their employees’ availability during evenings or weekends or just working more hours per day.
If you are interested in pursuing work-at-home opportunities, MinnesotaWorks.net, the state’s no-fee job bank, allows users to search open positions that offer full or partial telecommuting options.