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Just How Big Has Telecommuting Gotten?

Daniel B. Kline, The Motley Fool

Technology has made it easier for companies to allow people to work from home. With tools like Slack, videoconferencing, and the ubiquity of smartphones, telecommuting has simply become more viable and easier to manage.

Accordingly, the number of people who work remotely in the U.S. grew dramatically between 2005 and 2017, according to an analysis of the American Community Survey by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs. The ACS, which contains the most current U.S. government data available, showed the number of remote workers increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017.

A man types on a laptop on his couch.

A man uses a laptop on his couch. Image source: Getty Images.

What do the numbers mean?

Working from home has become something companies have increasingly allowed and/or encouraged. The report defines "telecommuters" or "remote workers" as people who are not self-employed and who principally work from home at least half-time. Freelancers, business owners, and others who don't work as employees of companies don't count.

The study showed the growth in remote employees has not only been significant but also steady. In addition, the data suggests the numbers have yet to peak:

  • Remote work grew by 7.9% between 2016 and 2017. 
  • Over the last five years, remote work increased by 44%.
  • Over the last 10 years, remote work has climbed by 91%.
  • 3.4% of the total U.S. workforce works remotely, an increase from 2.9% in 2015.
  • 4.7 million people in the U.S. telecommuted as of 2017, an increase from 3.9 million in 2015.

"It's important to note that full-time and even half-time telecommuters are among the minority. A far larger portion of the workforce, about half, works from home at least once a month," said Global Workplace Analytics President Kate Lister in a press release. "Talent shortages are fueling the growth of workplace flexibility right now because not only is it one of the most sought-after benefits among job seekers today, it also expands the talent pool by allowing employers to hire the best and the brightest from around the world."

Expect growth to continue

Workers want to telecommute for obvious reasons. Taking the time spent getting to work out of the equation makes it possible to work more and have more personal time. It also ends the frustration of commuting and eases family problems like kids coming home from school to an empty house. 

"With improvements to technology, and increasing demands from employees in a tight labor market, we fully expect to see the momentum around this important workplace continue to grow," said Flexjobs CEO Sara Sutton in the press release.

Companies that want to attract top-tier workers should consider offering some ability for people to work from home at least part of the time. It's a perk that workers want which can also benefit the company, not just through employee morale but by allowing for smaller offices and a lower infrastructure cost.

Allowing and even encouraging remote work can help create happy workers and make your company an employer that people want to work for. That's something which can't be overlooked at a time when the country has a shortage of talented labor in so many fields that may get worse in the coming months.

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This article was originally published on Fool.com