How many people really work from home? (research summary)

By Shawn Prenzlow

A few weeks ago, Scott hired me to help with research for his upcoming book. The plan is to share what we find as we go and you get to tell us what you think.  You can help validate or debunk our findings: Do they match your experience? Have you found research that proves something different? Do you know of other trends or data that we haven’t discovered?

Comment and let us know.

First up is the results from the question Scott posed for the Research Assistant contest: “What percentage of companies allow telecommuting of any kind?”

In general, my research showed that the search term telecommuting was tied to employee statistics, or breakdowns by industry or job type – but not to percentage of businesses. I am guessing that this is due to the difficulty of crisply defining what a “business” is; Fortune 500? Fortune 1000? Any business?  Include self-owned and home-based businesses? As such, it would be hard to get a baseline without some specificity.

After several searches using variants of telecommute and following leads and links, it seemed like a better direction to search on the term flexible workplace. This new term provided better results.

Here’s what I found:

 “Another nationally representative survey of employers illustrates the trend of differential access to flexi-place benefits within organizations. While 30% of organizations allow some employees to work at home either occasionally or regularly, only 3% of organizations allow all or most to do so.”

Source: Flexible Work Arrangements: The Fact SheetWorkplace Flexibility 2010 Georgetown University Law Center

Which seems to trend with the following:

…approximately 10 percent of workers telecommuted in the mid-1990s. The rate of telecommuting increased slightly to 17 percent in the early 2000s and then remained constant to the mid-2000s”

Source: The hard truth about telecommuting, Monthly Labor Review,  June 2012

Now, let’s get more specific:

21% of all medium / large businesses (100+ employees) support some level of informal telecommuting. This covers 470,000 telecommuters.

14% of all medium / large businesses (100+ employees) support some level of formal telecommuting. This covers 240,000 telecommuters.

65% do not support any telecommuting.

Source: Transportation Implications of Telecommuting, U.S Department of Transportation | Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA)


45% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least part-time telework.

50 million U.S. employees who want to work from home hold jobs that are telework compatible though only 2.9 million consider home their primary place of work (2.3% of the workforce).

Regular telecommuting grew by 61% between 2005 and 2009. During the same period, home-based self-employment grew by 1.7%.

Based on current trends, with no growth acceleration, regular telecommuters will total 4.9 million by 2016, a 69% increase from the current level but well below other forecasts.

76% of telecommuters work for private sector companies, down from 81% in 2005—the difference is largely attributable to increased WAH among state and federal workers.

(Unless otherwise noted, all telecommuter statistics refer to non-self-employed people who principally work from home.)

Source: The State of Telework in the U.S., June 2011,

But what about world-wide telework trends?

“Telecommuting is particularly popular in India where more than half of workers were most likely to be toiling from home, followed by 34 percent in Indonesia, 30 percent in Mexico and slightly less in Argentina, South Africa and Turkey.”

Source: About one in five workers worldwide telecommute, 2010 poll

But here’s what most of us want to know: Which are the best US cities for people to work from wherever they want (and apparently, in their PJs)?

“The same survey also found that Atlanta outranks other major cities when it comes to letting information employees work from home in their pajamas. Part of this can be explained by Atlanta’s growing position as a telecom and IT gateway to the Southeastern U.S., so these type of jobs naturally lend themselves to telework.”

Source: Microsoft Tracks Telework Trends, Ranks Top Cities for Home Workers, June 2011

What do you think? Does this information match your own experience? Do you know of better sources and statistics that support or refute these finds? Tell us!

6 Responses to “How many people really work from home? (research summary)”

  1. Riccardo Bua (@RiccardoBua)

    Hi Scott, it has been 4 years now that I have been working remotely. It added flexibility and increased productivity overall by a large factor, I don’t spend much time commuting and most of my team members are remote from me and sit in different part of the world as my customers are. I think it requires some diligence on the worker side, but also quite some adaptability on the managers, all in all if implemented properly it is a win-win.

  2. Boris Hristov

    Scott, thanks for that survey and the results from it! That just confirmed my understanding that businesses just does not change and are not able (or do not want for some reason) to react at the pace the employees expectations do. I am willing to bet that exactly these companies though, are those that lose their best employees most frequently.

  3. JohnO

    Atlanta also makes sense because it is routinely ranked as one of the cities with the *worst* traffic problem — and has a fledgling, if non-existing public transportation system. Speaking from experience here.

  4. Gokhan

    It seems US to be leading the home business. Other countries are still not developed as much.



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