Telecommute. Kill a career?

Survey indicates telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to employees working in traditional office settings

Employees who frequently telecommute may damage or kill their chances to advance within a particular career, according to a recent survey.

Over 60% of 1,320 global executives surveyed by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International said they believe that telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to employees working in traditional office settings. Company executives want face time with their employees, the study said.

Oddly enough, despite this assertion, 48% of respondents indicated that they would consider a job that involved telecommuting on a regular basis, and the vast majority, 78%, stated that telecommuters are either equally or more productive than those who work in offices.

When asked which type of flexible working arrangement they found most attractive, 46% of respondents preferred the option of working flexible hours, Korn/Ferry said.

The study's results fly in the face, though, of a growing movement. Since 1990, the number of teleworkers has grown from about 4 million to more than 45 million, said the Telework Coalition. Even President Bush and other top administrators have championed telework as a vital part of business-continuity plans. Gas prices, traffic congestion and housing costs are also factors driving telecommuting.

Large companies have also taken up the telecommuting gauntlet, though. A recent Network World story said IBM's efforts to create a flexible work telework environment have been so successful that 40% of its 330,000 employees work from home, on the road or at a client location on any given day.

IBM even sparked new life into an old tradition: IBM Clubs, which bring together employees for intramural sports, picnics, movies and other types of social, cultural and recreational activities.

IBM Clubs organize activities for employees in a geographic area, said Mary-Ann O'Connor, a work/life flexibility and mobility specialist at IBM, who has traveled the world to revive the network of IBM Clubs. The clubs are run independently by local volunteers, and the common thread is that "they all allow people to come together, to network, to get to know each other," she said. Membership has grown to 90,000 today.

Still, for many employees the isolation of working from home takes all the appeal out of telecommuting.

In the 2005/2006 National Technology Readiness Survey, released in June, 25% of 1,015 respondents said they have supportive employer telecommuting policies or jobs that would allow work from home. Yet fewer than half of those who could feasibly telecommute would choose to do so more than two days per week, according to the survey by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland and technology research firm Rockbridge Associates Inc.

Roughly 14% of eligible teleworkers said they would not telecommute at all.

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This story, "Telecommute. Kill a career?" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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