Counting telecommuters

One of the most confusing issues about telecommuting is that of establishing the number of telecommuters that exist in the world or in your own country. Part of this is a result of the varying definitions of telecommuting/teleworking; apparently not everyone in the world uses my definitions. For example, is someone who works at home in addition to working at his/her office the same day a telecommuter? My definition would say  “no”. That definition, when used in a survey, would produce a lower number than the more inclusive one that allows us both home and in–office work on the same day. You can find more about my definitions elsewhere on this website.

With reservations like this in mind you might want to investigate three new surveys of telecommuters. Two of them are online surveys. This in itself might produce a biased result since, believe it or not, not all telecommuters do it online.  Nevertheless it is probably safe to say that most contemporary telecommuters spend a considerable amount of time online.

One of the online surveys was developed by PhD candidate Solomon  Nyaanga of the Stevens Institute of Technology  [thanks to Kate Lister of the Telework Research Network for the link]. This survey is ongoing and I encourage you to participate.

The other online survey was recently completed by Ipsos, a global research company. The survey covers 11,383 online connected employees from 24 countries contacted between October 7 and 20, 2011. To the best of my knowledge that makes it the most global survey of teleworkers so far. Some key findings:

Telecommuting is primarily taking place in emerging markets: those working in the Middle East and Africa (27%), Latin America (25%) and Asia-Pacific (24%) are considerably more likely than those in North America (9%) and Europe (9%) to telecommute ‘on a frequent basis.’

More specifically, employees in of India (56%), Indonesia (34%), Mexico (30%), Argentina (29%), South Africa (28%) and Turkey (27%) are most likely to be pursuing this form of employment. On the other end, those in Hungary (3%), Germany (5%), Sweden (6%), France (7%), Italy (7%) and Canada (8%) are least like[ly] to telecommute ‘on a frequent basis.’

Not what one might expect, given the results reported in other, earlier surveys. One possible explanation for the difference between these results and our (at least my) expectations is the impacts of the jittery economy in the U.S. and Europe. Yet Sweden and Finland were early European* leaders in adopting teleworking. The North American statistic is really surprising, given the results of other surveys suggesting that American telecommuters constitute more than one-quarter of the workforce. But that might be a clue: The fraction of the workforce that is online in emerging economies is probably much lower than that of the developed economies, thereby skewing the results toward the emerging economies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were to be a standard definition of telecommuting, at least as used in surveys, so that we could make some sense of different surveys?

Finally, here comes a Telework Survey Report from the Telework Advisory Group of the State of California covering active state teleworkers in 100 state departments. The report appears two decades after the Telecommuting Pilot Project that started it all. Although that thought makes me feel ancient the report shows that telework is alive and well in state government (although with half as many teleworkers as there could be). Thanks to David Fleming, the original leader of the California project for leaking it to me.

So, however one defines it, it appears that telework is here to stay.

*Some Europeans with whom I have worked firmly state that Scandinavians are not Europeans. An indication of the difficulties in talking about “Europe”.

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