Why aren’t more people teleworking?

Approximately 50 million people in the United States “who want to work from home hold jobs that are telework compatible,” according to a recent report by the Telework Research Network. But, only about three million of them currently do. Why the disconnect? Why aren’t more people teleworking?

Various theories have been offered recently by people inside and outside of government.

Federal Computer Week recently asked its readers how their agencies are implementing the Obama administration’s Telework Enhancement Act. As one might expect, they received mixed reviews.

Some readers said telework is shunned by management at their agencies. Feds wrote in with stories of “control freak” managers who discourage telework in an effort to keep a watchful eye on employees at all times. Others said they believed management was discouraging telework to keep themselves relevant.


“You think maybe it’s because of the threat of the elimination that telework would cause middle management, whose sole reason for existing is to constantly count heads and watch clocks to see if somebody came in five minutes late and write them up?” wrote one FCW reader.

For all of the federal workers who want to telework but can’t (or don’t) there are others who choose not to work outside the office. A recent article in The Atlantic says this choice is more psychological.

For one, Derek Thompson writes, people worried about losing their jobs (especially in hard economic times) feel that being in the office gives them an advantage. Then, there are the people who genuinely like the office.

“I could have called Ted and written these paragraphs from my couch, or the coffee shop across the street from my apartment. Instead, I chose to walk 15 minutes through the tropical heat because … well, I like my colleagues. I like my desk. I like that it is not the same table where I eat dinner and find funny YouTube videos with my roommates,” Thompson said about his own choice not to telework.

The Telework Research Network expects the number of teleworkers to grow about 69 percent by 2016. If the past is any indication of the future, many of them could be in government. The number of federal teleworkers grew 400 percent between 2005-2009.