When something grows by 118 percent in the span of one year, you take notice. Comparing the number of remote work opportunities posted to the site in 2013 to the number posted in 2012, FlexJobs saw exactly this kind of astronomical growth: 118 percent more remote work opportunities were posted in 2013 than in the previous year.
“There has been a steady upward trend over the last decade with remote jobs, but it seems that we’re reaching a time of critical mass,” Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, wrote in an email. “Employers are really opening up to remote jobs in a way we haven’t seen before, starting to consider them a ‘best practice’ rather than something to be avoided or approached with extreme caution.”
In some ways, it’s strange that Sutton Fell can point to 2013 as “a time of critical mass”: last year, while remote work opportunities were apparently exploding across FlexJobs, CEO Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting at Yahoo. Some similarly struggling companies followed Yahoo’s lead, with Best Buy severely limiting its work-from-home options and HP inviting remote employees to join the company’s physical offices.
And it’s doubly strange that Sutton Fell can call telecommuting a “best practice”: all of these companies cracked down on telecommuting as part of a strategy to turn their struggling business around. To paraphrase their thinking: bringing employees together in a central location would boost culture and foster more innovation.
But despite these high-profile instances of pushback, Sutton Fell has statistics on her side: “In 2013, Yahoo! ended their telecommuting program and the popular opinion said this was a sign of the ‘end of telecommuting,’” she said. “But when we look at the numbers, with a 118 [percent] increase in work-from-anywhere job postings over the last year, it’s clear that the opposite is true, and remote jobs will continue to grow.”
Sure, the 118 percent increase only refers to one website, but as The Atlantic has noticed, telecommuting is growing across the board: from 1980 to 2012, the percentage of Americans telecommuting every day jumped from 2.3 percent to 4.4 percent. Similarly, the U.S. Census Bureau has found that 9.4 percent of Americans work from home at least one day a week (some sources say that number is as high as 17 percent), whereas only 7 percent did in 1994.
And as far as telecommuting being a best practice, researchers at Stanford University found that people who work from home are 13 percent more efficient, so Sutton Fell’s observations once again look solid.
Sutton Fell said she “absolutely” sees the growth telecommuting opportunities continuing: “The technology used by virtual companies and remote teams is high quality, easily accessible, and budget friendly. There are so many free or low-cost options for virtual collaboration, document sharing, and communication that companies of all sizes can take advantage of.”
Remote employees can communicate via join.me, Google Hangouts, Skype, and, of course, good, old-fashioned conference calls. They can share documents and collaborate on projects via Google Drive, Dropbox, MindMeister, and a slew of other options. Many of these technologies are absolutely free.
And because Sutton Fell believes that telecommuting will continue to grow, Sutton Fell also has some interesting forecasts for what the future will look like: “It’s hard to say because things change so quickly, but I think the future of remote work looks a lot like FlexJobs — totally virtual companies will be able to build a fantastic corporate culture with a close-knit group of professionals who just happen to live thousands of miles away from each other. And while I don’t think offices will ever be completely replaced with at-home work, I do think the financial and environmental benefits of remote work will eventually appeal to even the most staunchly office-based companies, and most if not all companies will eventually allow some kind of remote work for their employees.”
Sutton Fell’s predictions square nicely with Deloitte’s concept of the “open talent economy,” which is unsurprising, considering that telecommuting plays an important role in the open talent economy’s continuum of talent.
For anyone nervous about these seismic shifts in the talent landscape, Sutton Fell is quick to point out that remote work creates plenty of new opportunities for recruiters. “Hiring remote employees makes it easier for small businesses to expand into new territories, for companies to find the best talent regardless of geography, and even for businesses to build more diverse workforces,” she said.
Though organizations shouldn’t be too worried about remote workers doing their jobs without constant oversight — remember that 13 percent increase in productivity that Stanford found — Sutton Fell recognizes that managing telecommuters is a new challenge for a lot of companies. “Traditional management styles rely heavily on face-time in the office,” she said, “but managing a productive remote workforce takes a complete shift in managerial style.”
“Communication, collaboration, trust, and accountability are key factors in managing a productive remote workforce,” Sutton Fell added “and HR professionals should absolutely learn new techniques to help their companies best manage remote workers.”
What about recruiting remote workers? Do we need totally new techniques to find telecommuting talent?
It turns out that clarity is the key to attracting talent for work-from-home opportunities. “One of the things we often see is that companies offer telecommuting jobs, but they don’t actually talk about the option to work from home on their careers website or even in the job description!” Sutton Fell said. “So many qualified professionals are actively looking for remote jobs, so companies with this messaging displayed clearly on their website and job ads will attract them for sure.”
“Truly, the best way to recruit more remote workers is to embrace remote work and demonstrate that commitment on the web, in job ads, and in recruiting materials,” Sutton Fell said.