While teleworking rates remain highest in occupations traditionally associated with the practice—child care workers, writers and authors, and sales representatives—the fastest growth has been seen in technology-related positions and others reliant on remote access to technical systems, according to recent research.
In its report, “The Incredible Disappearing Office: Making Telework Work,” The Conference Board finds that the advancements in home networking over the last decade have been accompanied by teleworking gains among a number of these technology-reliant professions, including insurance underwriters (4.5 percent, up 275 percent since 2001-2003) and computer software developers (6.1 percent, up 127 percent).
"A confluence of factors, led by the rapid expanse of sophisticated, secure and relatively inexpensive communication technologies, has sparked a quiet revolution in where and how many Americans do their jobs,” said Amy Lui Abel, director of human capital research at The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. “To take full advantage of the opportunities teleworking provides—while avoiding the many potential pitfalls—employers and employees must engage in an open dialog that establishes the mutual expectations and responsibilities that come with this new workplace culture."
The report points to IBM as an example of how offering telework options can benefit an organization. In 1970, IBM’s strategy grew out of the idea of installing access "terminals" in employees' homes. By 1995, 10,000 IBM employees were mobile, enabling the company to move from a traditional 1:1 workspace-to-worker ratio to 1:4. In just that first year, a $41.5 million investment in worker training returned $74 million in savings. The Conference Board contends that with today's significantly cheaper, lighter-weight technology, even organizations without IBM's expertise can now achieve similar savings.
The report goes on to offer best practices, including: growing the technical literacy of managers so they buy in to advantages of some employees working remotely and can identify potential telework opportunities, building a strong community of teleworkers that can share experiences and offer advice online or in-person, and integrating support for traveling workers as part of a larger teleworking program.
"Research concurs that the dual lynchpins of effective teleworking are strong management and robust IT," said co-author Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research at The Conference Board. "With support from HR, managers at all levels must make the mental shift to trusting that employees are getting the job done without seeing them every day—and to have the strength to act decisively when they're not. On the technology side, the right hardware and software choices backed up by abundant support staff can make the difference between a seamless transition and hundreds or thousands of man-hours lost to bugs and faulty connections."
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