$1,120: Average gas savings per year for telecommuters.
The appeal of heading to work in a traditional office setting each morning is waning, as both employees and employers are finding positives in the increasingly popular trend of telecommuting.
Nearly 40 percent of professionals with a bachelor’s degree or higher nationwide do some or all of their work from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ohio ranks low among states for full-time telecommuters, studies show, but local companies have seen an increase in the number of people taking advantage of flexible work options. Several said they have more than one-third of their employees working remotely.
Both millennials entering the workforce and baby boomers getting ready to retire are driving the increase by demanding more flexible work options, studies show.
“For so long we’ve had that 40-hour work week, 8 hours a day mentality that’s been pretty standard. But now it looks like there’s a little bit more push-back,” said Brie Reynolds, director of online content at FlexJobs.com, an job search engine that conducted a study on telecommuters last year.
Some of that shift has to do with the rise of the gig economy — companies such as Uber, Airbnb and others facilitating freelance work. Other workers are looking for ways to do side projects that satisfy different interests, Reynolds said.
Despite a highly publicized backlash a few years ago when companies such as Best Buy, Bank of America, Zappos and Yahoo scaled back or ended telecommuting programs, the trend shows that flexible work continues to replace traditional 9-to-5 office jobs.
From 2003 to 2015, the share of employed persons who did some or all of their work at home increased from 19 percent to 24 percent, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey. For those with at least a bachelor's degree, those numbers have gone from 32 percent to 39 percent.
Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 workers work part-time in the U.S. By 2020, that figure is expected to rise to 40 percent, according to a report by Intuit. The majority of those workers, 78 percent, are part-time by choice, the BLS survey shows.
Less than 4 percent of Ohio workers were full-time telecommuters in 2013, according to U.S. Census data, but that number may be on the rise based on trends local companies are seeing.
At insurance company Assurant, more than 600 employees in Springfield and Dayton work from home entirely or some of the time, mainly in customer service and account processing positions, according to company spokesman Robert Byrd.
“That’s more than a third of the Springfield/Dayton staff, up from just over 20 percent three years ago,” he said.
Across the company, Assurant has nearly 3,000 employees working from home.
CareSource, one of Dayton’s largest employers with a total workforce of 2,900, has about 35 percent of its employees in work-from-home or mobile positions, according to Dan McCabe, chief administrative officer.
Mobile employees have territories that they cover providing care management to members and have no specific work space dedicated to them, he said.
“We offer a work-from-home or alternative work location option to employees because it supports our mission,” McCabe said.
The policy also allows CareSource to recruit talent across the region without restrictions on where it expands, he said.
“We specifically see the value of the work-from-home and mobile staff serving members in very rural communities,” McCabe said. “We would have difficulty meeting our members’ needs if we were not able to have workers in these positions.”
CareSource also has continued to expand its footprint in downtown Dayton with four locations, including recently leased space in Kettering Tower.
Assurant began a work-from-home program in Springfield about eight years ago to help attract and retain employees who wanted to avoid the traditional office shift and commute, Byrd said.
“We want to be a great place to work – even if that place turns out to be home,” he said. “We believe employees who enjoy their surroundings and their environment are likely to be happy and effective team members.”
Dayton-based Teradata, which has about 10,000 employees worldwide and about 400 in the region, was named one of FlexJobs.com's 100 top companies to watch for remote jobs in 2016. The list is based on companies that posted the most work-from-home jobs on the search site in 2015.
Company spokesman Michael O’Sullivan said he couldn’t provide numbers on how many local employees work remotely through Teradata’s Virtual Workplace Program.
A mix of work
Because of flexible work options with her full-time employer, Judy Keller and her boyfriend Michael Routt are able to run Furry Friends Fun House, a dog-sitting and boarding business, out of their home in Beavercreek.
It’s a full-time, at-home career for Routt, while Keller is able to pitch in during evenings and weekends and when she works from home as a graphic designer for a defense contractor.
“We kinda work tag team in that I work full time and provide and then his income is savings,” Keller said. “Sometimes I work from home on Fridays or I’ll go in half a day and work the rest of the day from home because Fridays are a really big volume day for us.”
The home business grew out of a favor Keller did by watching a dog for a co-worker. She then started to offset her rent by offering her dog-sitting services through DogVacay.com.
When she met Routt, a former electrician, machinist and handyman, they jumped at the opportunity to build a real business in which they could have more control over their work.
“I was amazed that you could do this and make money at it,” Routt said. “I told myself right then and there, I don’t want to carry refrigerators up four flights of stairs anymore.”
Matthew James, who operates Trivia with a Twist in four Ohio cities from his home in Cincinnati, came into his business through a similar realization that he wasn’t happy at his previous job.
After running restaurants for years, he was selling insurance and said he wasn’t cut out for the 9-to-5 life.
“I was late to work every day,” James said.
Now he does business remotely and on his own schedule, using Google Drive and Hangouts to video conference with his nine employees in Cincinnati and Dayton.
Not being tied to a physical office has allowed him to grow the business and create jobs, he said.
“If I had to have a brick-and-mortar … I couldn’t make my costs,” James said. “The reason I can do this and charge what I charge and pay what I pay my employees is the fact that I set up in an office in my home. I don’t have to pay $8,000-a-month rent.”
Pros and cons
The pros outweigh the cons, he said, but there are some pitfalls.
“You have to self-motivate every day. Today I woke up at 11:30 and ordered pizza,” James said.
Distractions also are an issue, Keller said, as well as a loss of privacy and blurring of the home and office worlds.
“We’re just always on call,” she said.
In surveying at-home workers, FlexJobs.com found the main complaints are feelings of isolation, and fears about lack of face time with the boss.
“Some people do have a fear that they will be overlooked for things like promotions,” Reynolds said.
The biggest advantages cited by at-home workers are the savings — both time and money.
FlexJobs.com estimates the average annual savings for telecommuters at about $4,300. That includes gas or public transportation costs, wardrobe costs including dry cleaning, and expenses such as lunches at restaurants with co-workers.
Businesses see savings, too, Reynolds said, in real estate and operating costs by shifting to smaller offices.
Various studies have put the average time spent commuting at between nine and 14 days annually, or as Reynolds puts it, “an entire vacation.”
“Especially for working parents, for people that are caregivers … both of those areas are some of the people who want this this the most,” Reynolds said. “They’re not willing to sacrifice that time anymore.”
Baby Boomers, although no longer the largest generation in the workforce, remain a driving force that is looking for flexibility as they near retirement, studies show.
About one-third of the U.S. labor force is in the 50-plus age category, according to the BLS.
Faced with the prospect of losing workers with key talents, experience and skills, the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed companies in 2014 about difficulties in retaining older workers.
An inability to offer flexible work location (47 percent), work hour flexibility (44 percent), and work schedule flexibility (43 percent) were three of the top four reasons listed for losing older workers.
The most popular step companies are taking to recruit or retain older workers is to offer reduced hours or part-time positions. That strategy was followed by offering consulting opportunities, flexible scheduling or telecommuting.
For millennials, who are more likely to have a working spouse or partner than older generations, work-life balance has been cited as a top requirement in job searches.
Seventy-five percent of millennials surveyed by Ernst & Young said they want the ability to work flexibly and still be on track for a promotion.