Friday, 04 November 2016 12:00

US workers go mobile and remote in increasing numbers

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Working from home or another remote location is increasing in the US, with a new survey showing that a rapidly growing number of the country’s mobile workforce is taking advantage of their employers’ remote work policies.

The survey of 300 full-time workers in the US by communications solutions provider West Unified Communications found that more than 90% of millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers take advantage of remote work polices.

The survey also reveals that while a larger proportion of millennials work for companies that offer remote work capabilities — 69% versus 40% of boomers — actual use of a policy isn’t age-dependent.

In fact, the survey shows that when you look at just boomers, 95% use their company’s remote work policy – slightly more than the 93% of millennials who do the same.

West UC cites reports from Global Workforce Analytics and IDC that up to one-quarter of US employees now actively participate in remote working, and that number is quickly on the rise. By 2020, the mobile workforce is projected to comprise roughly three-quarters of US employees.

Interestingly, the West UC survey revealed that while today’s employees enjoy the convenience of mobility, they also want to ensure that workplace elements like office culture, face-to-face communication and career advancement remain a part of their working experience.

And, Rob Bellmar, executive vice-president of Business Operations at West UC, says employers must keep these concerns in mind when designing a telecommuting policy.

According to West UC, there are two distinct camps within the active mobile workforce – those who use all of the remote work time that’s available to them and those who only use some of it, with the breakdown of these two groups varying by age, tenure and company policy.

The survey found that younger workers are much more likely to use all their available remote work time and that more than 60% of millennials fall into the “all” category, compared to only one-third of baby boomers.

“Tenure also appears to play a role in whether employees maximise their remote work time. Among employees who’ve been at their company less than six months, two-thirds choose to use all available remote work time,” Bellmar notes.

“That number drops as tenure increases, with fewer than 40% of employees with five or more years on the job falling into the 'all' category. It’s possible, however, that this drop off may be a product of new hires enduring a probationary period in which they’re allowed a limited amount of remote work days to begin.

“Finally, the more time a company’s policy allows its employees to work remotely, the more likely they are to take advantage of all the available time.

“At companies that permit employees to work remotely every day, 81% of employees use all of that time. This figure drops sharply to 43% at companies where employees may only remote work several days a week, and further sinks to 16% at businesses where employees are only allowed several remote work days a month.

According to the survey, the vast majority of respondents in the US who work remotely do it from home, and those who venture outside for remote work tend to be “in the younger crowd”.

One-fifth of millennials, for instance, say they regularly work from coffee shops, compared to only 10% of boomers and cars, bars and client offices are also remote work destinations frequented by millennials but almost no boomers.

The survey, however, found one notable remote workspot among the younger generation is co-working spaces, which 16% of millennial respondents say they use regularly.

“While this may seem like an ironic choice — working outside of the office only to work in another office — co-working spaces have been found to offer a unique blend of autonomy and community that for younger workers often yields better work than a traditional office,” Bellmar says.

Key findings of the survey included:

• Email and phone are king. With 75% of respondents using both, email and phone continue to be collaboration technologies of choice for remote workers. However, tools like instant messaging (31%); video conferencing (30%) and web conferencing (28%) are gaining ground;

• Miscommunication happens. More than a quarter of mobile workers feel their distance from other employees and direct supervisors can lead to misinterpreted communication; and

• The real tech-obsessed generation is… About one-quarter of Gen X remote workers use collaboration apps compared to 18 percent of millennials and only 10 percent of boomers.

And, the survey also found that employee’s top five reasons for working remotely are:

1. Sick child (35%);

2. Transportation issues (34%);

3. To avoid the long commute (30%);

4. Improve productivity (30%); and

5. To avoid distractions of working in office (28%).

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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