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Myth Buster: Men Telework More
 

By Aliah D. Wright  5/1/2014
 
Men outpace women when it comes to telework, while women are more likely to put their hours in at the office, according to a new study of 566 full-time employed adults by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc.

The study reports that 31 percent of adults who work full time perform their duties away from the office, and nearly three out of four of those who do so are men.

“Failure to understand how and where work gets done, and by whom, and failure to support these operational strategies with the attention and resources warranted—including training and guidance—can compromise the optimal performance and well-being of both organizations and employees,” said Cali Williams Yost, CEO of Flex+Strategy Group.

The study dispels several stereotypes about telecommuting. For example, the typical full-time telecommuter isn’t:

• Female.
• A parent.
• A Millennial.

According to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey released earlier this year, the typical employee works for a company with more than 100 employees. Between 20 million to 30 million Americans telecommute at least once a week, according to Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network. Both estimate that 3.1 million people consider home their primary workplace. And An Overview of Employee Benefits Offerings in the U.S., a survey report released by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2013, revealed more companies plan to offer telecommuting in 2014 as a benefit.

Telecommuting is also becoming mainstream. Judges in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals referenced its relevance in an Americans with Disabilities Act reasonable accommodation case. In an April 22, 2014, 2-1 ruling on behalf of a woman who was terminated after asking to work from home several days a week because she suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, the judges wrote in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Ford Motor Co., “… as technology has advanced in the intervening decades, and an ever-greater number of employers and employees utilize remote work arrangements, attendance at the workplace can no longer be assumed to mean attendance at the employer’s physical location.”
Yost added that “Almost one-third of the work that gets done today gets done from home, coffee shops and other locations, yet too many corporate leaders treat telework as a disposable option, as in the case of Yahoo,” referring to the online media company’s decision in 2013 to eliminate telework.

“Telework is not a perk, and it’s certainly not just for moms and Gen Y,” she said in a news release. “Rather, it’s an operational strategy. Think of it as anything less, and organizations ignore what has become a vital part of their business and the way their people actually work.”

Open Office Spaces Take Toll

Meanwhile, back at the office, 30 percent of survey respondents said they perform their duties in a private office and 33 percent work in cubicles, with “women (43 percent) significantly more likely than men (27 percent) to work in cubicles or open spaces,” according to the release.
“[Women working in cubicles] were the largest group reporting less work/life flexibility now than at this time last year (42 percent) when compared to their remote and private office colleagues, and of those who feel they have the least control over their work/life flexibility, cube/open office workers were the largest percentage,” the release stated.

Yost believes concerns over a “mommy track” stigma may be one reason why fewer women telework.

“As organizations continue to squeeze more people into less square footage, they will be increasingly confronted with the limitations of open office plans and forced to accept that work/life flexibility is a solution to where, when and how employees can get their work done with greater focus and performance,” Yost stated.

Experts consider the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the poster child for telework among federal agencies. As of 2013, more than 411 employees teleworked four to five days per week, and more than 141 teleworked between one and three days a week. The agency began minimizing its use of office space by having employees telework in 1997, according to news reports.

“Overall, it’s good business and an effective management strategy to make sure that your managers are managing on what counts, because frankly, time and attendance does not equal productivity anyway,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of Mobile Work Exchange, in an interview with SHRM in 2013.

Yost advised employers to help workers develop the skills to manage their work/life fit “so they can successfully capture the best of collaborative and remote work environments.”


Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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