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Telecommuting is on the rise, with millennials leading the charge

For 25-year-old, Elkridge-based software engineer John Yoon, who codes for Leidos, working from a cubicle just wasn’t worthwhile.

“Working in an office there were times when I felt really focused, there were also other times when I was looking at the wall thinking, ‘Why am I here?’’ Yoon said, adding that he completes all of his work on a computer.

He’s been working from home for the past seven months and rarely goes to his Columbia office, a commute that he resented each morning, he said. And even though the barking of his 10-pound Lhasa Apso dog Nikko may be a distraction, telecommuting is worth it, he said.

“I can do increments of work and take breaks, and I think that really helps. I feel less stressed. I feel refreshed throughout the week as opposed to refreshed on Thursday or Friday.”

Yoon is among the 22 percent of American workers who complete all or some of their work from home, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 American Time Use Survey. This figure is up from 19 percent in 2003.

The 2016 Employee Benefits Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management uncovered an even more convincing trend. The percentage of employers in the nation offering telecommuting has increased threefold in the past 20 years — from 20 percent to 60.

But companies are still hesitant to allow workers to telecommute full time, with 77 percent of companies saying they don’t allow it.

It’s all about trust, Julie Develin, the secretary for Maryland Society for Human Resource Management, said. Employers must clearly establish the parameters for completing work at home, and build a strong relationship with telecommuting employees.

Yoon said the same.

“I would have to say it depends on the person,” he said. “There are a lot of people that I would not trust to work at home. They just wouldn’t get any work done. Then again, there are people who thrive.”

John Michel, an assistant professor of management at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business, said that telecommuting is gaining wider acceptance due in part to younger company leaders.

“You’re seeing that shift now where younger managers know if the person doesn’t have to spend an hour in the car each day, doesn’t have to find parking, they’re going to put their head down and get their job done,” said Michel, who studies human resource management and organizational behavior.

By 2020, 50 percent of all American employees will work remotely, experts told attendees at the Telecommuting, Remote and Distributed Works Forum, held in Washington in June.

“I think that companies have realized that work-life balance feels out of reach for some people. Generationally, millennials especially feel that way, and working from home puts the power back into their hands,” Develin said. “That can ultimately lead to more productivity and better results for the employer.”

Offering work from home can also help employers reduce costs, whether reducing the need for office space or lowering electric bills, and it helps them compete for highly skilled employees, she said. Prohibitively high child care costs have also increased the demand for work-from-home options, she said.

To earn these benefits, employers must overcome anti-telecommuting stigma, she said.

“You do miss some of the culture-building and camaraderie that can come with the office,” she said. “And people who work in the office may think of people working from home as not doing anything.”

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