Workzone: Perks of working from home dwindling

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Want to work from home? Get a job with the feds.

Three years after the federal government approved the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act -- which directed all federal agencies to develop their own telecommuting implementation strategies, both to save money and to promote workforce readiness in the event of an emergency -- the policy is taking root.

Washington, D.C.'s Commuter Connections, an informational division of the area's regional transportation planning board, surveyed 6,000 D.C.-area workers and found that 38 percent of federal employees now work remotely at least occasionally.

That's up from 27 percent in 2010, and 16 percent in 2007. (There are about 18,000 federal government employees in the Pittsburgh area.)

In the private sector, according to the survey, numbers were trending in the opposite direction: 25 percent of workers telecommute every once in a while, down from 28 percent in 2010, at least in the D.C. area.

The shifting numbers represent a workplace reversal, said Nicholas W. Ramfos, director of Commuter Connections.

"The private sector [was] much further ahead that the federal government" until just a few years ago. But the recession has caused some private sector employers to scale back some perks and benefits, including the working-from-home option.

It seems like a counterproductive move, since telecommuting, in the long term, can save a company money on overhead.

But allowing an employee to telecommute often involves some up-front costs: new laptop, software, sometimes new cable lines in the home. And those capital costs are ripe for slashing in lean times.

The share of U.S. employers that allow for telecommuting, or at least have such policies in place, is still on the rise -- 63 percent, according to a 2012 National Study of Employers conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute.

So why aren't more employees taking advantage?

Partly because, 15 years into the high-speed Internet age, studies are showing that remote working creates a new set of workplace complications.

"Where [telecommuting] has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts," wrote Mary Noonan of the University of Iowa and Jennifer Glass of the University of Texas at Austin in a 2012 paper on telework.

"Telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional worktime beyond the standard work week [and] the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

In other words, those who work from home may end up working more, not less -- even if they are able to do it their pajamas.

yourbiz

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2625.


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