Call it telecommuting, telework or working from home: It appears more of us are earning at least part of our salaries from home, and with the boss's blessings.

According to a survey by the human resources group WorldatWork, the number of Americans who work either from their homes or remotely at least one day a month rose by 74% between 2005 and 2008, to more than 17 million. And if you add to that figure the so-called "contract telecommuters" -- folks who are self-employed or run their own businesses -- the number jumps to nearly 34 million people.

There are more studies now than you can shake a stick at, arguing the pros and cons of telecommuting. Some groups tout its advantages: flexible time, the lack of a commute, as well as less office space, energy and supply issues for employers. But there are others who say working remotely not only cuts workers off from their fellow employees and office culture, but can also create tensions with colleagues back at the office.

A 2008 study from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute suggests in-office workers feel they have "decreased flexibility and a higher workload, and the ensuing greater frustration that comes with coordinating in an environment with more extensive co-worker telework."

The Benefits of Knowing Someone Is Watching


While there has been no definitive study on which is more efficient, at least one analyst suspects time will show the benefits of both venues.

"People are equally efficient at home as at they are at work, but there are different forces that operate," says Kathryn Shaw, professor of economics at the Stanford University Business School, "and I think that's what the data will show in the long run." Shaw says she's uneasy with generalizations on this topic, because efficiency levels can vary greatly depending on the type of job.

More companies, meanwhile, are becoming aware of the need to balance at-home and in-office work for their employees, "but it depends on the firm and it depends on the nature of the work you're doing," says Shaw.

She points to company call centers that successfully have people working from their homes, as well as high-tech workers who can be more creative. "But there are other jobs where you really do want people watching," she says. "There's empirical evidence that watching does influence people, there are definitely peer effects -- when someone's watching, you behave differently." Some firms are also taking measures to ensure their contract employees aren't slacking off at home. At least one company takes screen shots of its remote contract employees as they work throughout the day.

Linked by Technology


Given the use of new technologies and the globalization of jobs, working remotely is par for the course at many companies. Teams of workers, located in different offices around the world, can now work together in real time on the same documents and projects. But there are times when face-to-face communication is the most efficient method.

"You still see people flying all over in international work, because they have to get together," says Shaw, "because there are certain subtle forms of communication that help you do your job [that] occur in person. The downside of distance work is that you lose cultural cues, [compared to] when you're working face-to-face with people."

That combination of working alone, as well as taking part in the relative camaraderie of an office environment, she says, can often strike the balance that modern jobs need.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Economics 101

Intro to economics. But fun.

View Course »

How to Avoid Financial Scams

Avoid getting duped by financial scams.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

12 Comments

Filter by:
Scott

I get a lot more done at home or after hours with fewer interruptions and bs conversations. People only call or email when they have something important.

January 18 2011 at 1:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Scott's comment
cesarvis

I agree 100%

January 18 2011 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sfcat

When my coworkers are sick, I'd rather they work at home. I work from home on Friday, and occasionally other days since I commute to another state each week. I find that it's my most productive day in terms of writing; it's really the time I can concentrate and get a rough draft done. I get the least interruptions, people who just walk up and interrupt are less likely to call, and I can wait on email until I am ready to take a break.

January 18 2011 at 12:31 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Robin Newman

I work at home three days a week. My employer is very flexible since I live two hours away. In turn I do my best to be flexible to my employer in terms of traveling; being in the office when needed, etc. That being said, I'd rather be in the office. I miss human contact and conference calls are not the same.

My Boss knew my work ethic before my telecommuting so the trust factor was already there. In my previous life as a manager with staff I can understand the reluctance in allowing employees to work at home. As with most things in life it comes down to trust.

January 18 2011 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dsh1007155

If the company doesn't need you in the office, it doesn't "need" you at all.

January 18 2011 at 10:15 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dsh1007155's comment
CherMoeLin

In this computer age, that's a ridiculous statement to make. For one thing, having employees work out of their home reduces some of the overhead. No, all people can be trusted, but those would be weeded out quickly. I think it's a win-win situation for both the company and the employee. And shame on the company that needs to take a video shot of its employee at home ... a perfect example of "big brother".

January 18 2011 at 12:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
gtascode

You moron. You must be a micro-manager, if you can manage anything at all. So much time is wasted in an office environment.

January 19 2011 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mail&parcel

As long as you are generating Revenue , HOME OR OFFICE.
Your choice.

Jay

January 17 2011 at 4:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Bert

The issue is critical and depends on a lot of factors . However , this article seems to be random comnents with little emperical thought . For example, measurement of results , commuting time, how much time is at home and the office (it doesn't have to be all or none ) , talking to people all over the world at wierd times , CREATIVITY, spreading disease in the office if you are sick , not being productive if you are feeling guilty about missing your childs school event , wasted gossip and meetings in the office , flex time hours based on need and motivation are all factors that argue in favor of at least some of the schedule being at home .

January 17 2011 at 11:50 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
miljk

I love when you get an economics professor stating his or her point of view and in most cases has never worked in a full time position outside of a higher education environment.

January 17 2011 at 11:36 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
bohemianacres

Studying something like this is a waste of time. Work is work. And the job to be done is the job to be done. Apples and oranges. How to measure? By the amount of money secured? By the amount of peace secured (as in Israel and Palestine)? A job is a job and it is like no other? Each job and each worker must be evaluated separately. Is it a woman (who type better) or a man (who can lift more in the long term)? Is it motivation (the number of bonuses)? Or is it the goal (having war can be profitable to some countries)? This study is so general in nature and so money motivated there can not be any meaningful conclusion other than some jobs are better done alone and some job better done in a group. But then I suppose some people have nothing better to do than to do a non-study like this one..... and expect to get paid for it.

January 17 2011 at 10:55 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bohemianacres's comment
pwahrenburg

You cannot generalize. What works for one does not work for another. I moved my business into my home about 12 years ago, and it works very well. I was also able to spend more time w/ my children, and keep up with more personal things around the home that we all know can really build up. Expense wise, I have saved scads of dollars on not having to pay rent, utilities, gas, etc., etc. For me, my focus has never been better because my work is all in one place. It has been hugely productive!

January 17 2011 at 11:43 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply