Telecommuting Policies Can Lower IT Employee Turnover

September, 2008

Telecommuting is a growing practice across most industries, enabled by the availability of high-speed internet access and ongoing developments in remote access, messaging, and IP telephony. The rising cost of gasoline is now fueling a renewed surge of interest in work-at-home arrangements, and our research indicates that telecommuting is on the rise in at least 20% of the IT organizations we surveyed.

This Research Byte is a summary of our full report, Current Trends in Telecommuting Among IT Workers.

Still, aggressive forecasts of the growth of telecommuting have generally fallen short. The federal government, viewing telecommuting as an answer to traffic congestion, global warming, and energy consumption, has a mandate to encourage telecommuting. Nevertheless, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, using a conservative definition, reported last year that out of the 70% of federal workers in 2005 who were eligible for telecommuting, only 9.5% took advantage of the policy. Even that is an inflated number: only 3.5% of federal workers were working at home more than once a week. That does not represent a telecommuting revolution.

We define telecommuters as employees who work all or part of their regular work week at home or at a satellite location, while performing functions that would normally be accomplished at the workplace. Self-employed home-based workers, mobile workers, and field workers are generally not telecommuters. Employees who occasionally take work home at night are also technically not telecommuting. By definition, telecommuters should also require remote access to the corporate network to perform their functions.

We consider telecommuting to be at a “moderate level of practice,” based on the results of our annual IT staffing and spending survey. Responses to the survey of about 200 IT organizations, balanced by sector and size, present an irregular (and thus moderate) adoption trend line for telecommuting, as shown in Figure 1.

Telecommuting Fig1 - Telecommuting Policies Can Lower IT Employee Turnover

In the first part of the full study, we assess the extent of telecommuting within IT organizations today. We examine adoption levels by stages to gauge the future trend, the year-over-year growth to gauge current activity, and the percentage of IT workers telecommuting at various frequencies to assess intensity. Next, we assess how IT managers rate the importance of telecommuting for recruitment and retention and the strength of their agreement with statements about the primary advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting. Finally, we compare turnover rates of organizations that have strong telecommuting policies with those that do not, exploring whether there is a positive correlation between low turnover rates and opportunities to work at home. We conclude with our assessment of these trends and recommendations for designing IT staff telecommuting policies.

Telecommuting for IT workers is on a slow, steady growth path. With gas prices rising and enabling technology reaching a critical mass, this trend is likely to accelerate. The reality, however, is that many employees prefer working in the office and many IT job functions require employees to be physically present. While some organizations view telecommuting as a key strategy, most appear to consider it a perk or benefit. Full-time telecommuters are likely to remain a small percentage of most IT staffs.

On the other hand, occasional and part-time telecommuting is becoming an increasingly common cornerstone of the flexible workplace, providing benefits in the form of improved productivity and enhanced recruitment and retention. IT organizations, however, need to have sound telecommuting policies and practices in place to mitigate potential communications, security, and morale issues.

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Current Trends in Telecommuting Among IT Workers. The full report is available at no charge for Computer Economics clients, or it may be purchased by non-clients directly from our website at (click for pricing).