The concept of working from home has taken a beating during the Great Recession, raising questions about companies’ ability to make the most of the wired world. The setback also throws a bit of cold water on the hopes of mature workers hoping to phase into retirement.
The number of folks working from home or another location outside the office at least one day a month was 26.2 million at the end of last year, down from 33.7 million two years earlier, according to a WorldatWork special report.
Some of this decline stems from overall job losses during the downturn. But the report also suggests that psychological barriers are playing a role. Working at home once in a while may be seen as slacking, and few are willing to chance being viewed in that light in the tight labor market.
The slacker fear is a shame. Three-in-four employers say they embrace some form of telecommuting, which cuts their real estate costs and has other benefits. From the report:
“Telework can be a mutually beneficial program enhancing both the employees’ work and personal lives while reaping positive returns to the organization through lower absenteeism and turnover, and higher employee satisfaction and engagement.”
But you have to wonder if some firms aren’t just paying lip service to the value of flexible schedules. Only 17% of employers train workers how to be productive with a flexible schedule. Just 21% of employers train managers to get the most out of their telecommuting staff. That’s not much of an embrace.
Meanwhile, only 8% of workers over the age of 55 telecommute. So much for winding down your career with a more accommodative schedule that keeps you working longer and let’s you defer Social Security benefits and avoid drawing down savings too soon.
The typical telecommuter is 40 years old and has a college degree, and more likely than not is a man. Which pretty much dispels the stereotype telecommuter as a working mom juggling family and a job from home. It seems a lot of working dads are doing that too. No doubt they are finding out for themselves that it’s easier to slack at the office.