Telecommute. Kill a Career?

Survey finds that telecommuters are less likely to advance their careers

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

Over 60 percent of 1320 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 percent of respondents indicated that they would consider a job which involved telecommuting on a regular basis and the vast majority 78 percent 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 percent of respondents most 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 to more than 45 million from about 4 million says 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 also have taken up the telecommuting gauntlet, though. Recent reports have found that IBM's efforts to create a flexible work telework environment have been so successful that 40 percent of its 330,000 employees work from home, on the road, or at a client location on any given day.

Big Blue even sparked new life into an old tradition: IBM Club, which brings 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, says 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 says. 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 percent 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.

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