Blogs & Comment

Are telecommuters lazier than office workers?

Research shows about one in five telecommuting employees work less than an hour a day. But don’t be fooled by their location. Cubicle workers get lazy too.

(Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty)

How many hours do you work each day? Eight? Seven? Less than one?

Online jobs site Career Builder recently surveyed thousands of telecommuters and found 17% said they spend only one hour—sometimes even less—actually working each day. But while the idea of paying almost of a fifth of the telecommuting workforce to veg is enough to infuriate the calmest of managers, workplace expert and author Kevin Burns suggests keeping that percentage in perspective and applauding the other 75% of employees who consistently put in more than four hours of work in a day. “There are slackers who work from home and slackers who find ways of avoiding any real work while in the workplace,” says Burns. “At some point, the lack of productivity by an employee catches up and has to be dealt with—either in the employee having to do marathon work days to catch up or by simply firing the offender.”

The distractions that crop up in a worker’s day might be slightly different in the home (chores, television, pets, errands and children were all listed as time sucks by the telecommuters who were polled), but interruptions at work are just as common.

And as the number of telecommuters increases (studies suggest about 35% of employees do some telecommuting, up from about 20% four years ago), attitudes toward productivity are also changing. “Let me ask you this,” says Burns, “Do slackers in the office give top-producers a bad name when they are both working in the office? No, we tend view slackers as slackers and top-producers as top-producers. We don’t judge them to be the same just because they work in the same office or for the same company.” Burns says it’s up to managers to recognize the 83% who are being productive: “Just as they would in the office, managers must communicate directly only with the offenders and not take away freedoms that others have clearly earned and used responsibly.” After all, employees get paid to complete their work, not to keep office chairs warm for eight hours.

Other recent research shows that companies agree with Burns. In one Canadian Accountemps survey, 22% of CFOs said remote work arrangements have increased at their companies in the past three years.

To that end, Burns says that the strategy for managing telecommuters shouldn’t really be any different that that of managing employees in the office. “Managers and co-workers should be firing e-mails and making phone calls to the telecommuter and treating them just like they were in the office,” he says. “Even teleconference can be done face-to-face. Really, the only difference is that employees are just not physically in the office.”