Working at home: An update
Ernest B. Akyeampong
Various Statistics Canada surveys have suggested strong growth in the number and proportion of employees doing some or all of their regularly scheduled work at home during the 1990s.1 The estimated number (and incidence) of teleworkers rose from just a little over 600,000 (6%) in 1991 to 1 million (9%) in 1995, and to 1.4 million (10%) in 2000. With continuing growth in employment, growing computer use both at home and at work, advancements in information and telecommunications technology, and lobbying by telework advocacy groups, one would have expected the trend to continue into the 2000s.2 Instead, virtually no increase has been seen. This note uses the 2000 and 2005 General Social Survey (see Data source) to examine changes in telework by sex, age, education, occupation, industry, and marital status. The focus is on employees because the self-employed have relatively more freedom with respect to workplace location. However, the decision to allow a telework arrangement rests on negotiations
between employee and employer (see Main reason for working at home).
Stall in telework numbers and incidence
The number and incidence of teleworkers appear to have levelled off in recent years—actually dipping from 1,426,000 (10.2%) in 2000 to 1,322,000 (9.8%) in 2005 (Table). The stall is surprising in light of past trends (see Possible impediments to telework growth).
With few exceptions, the fall-off in telework popularity between 2000 and 2005 was pervasive. It occurred for male and female employees alike, irrespective of marital status. However, employees aged 55 and over recorded a rise in incidence over the period, as did those without a high school diploma, and those with some college or university education but no diploma or degree.
In most major industries, the incidence remained little changed or declined slightly. Notable declines occurred in business, building and other support, and in public administration.3 In both 2000 and 2005, employees in professional, scientific and technical services, and in educational services recorded the highest incidence of telework—roughly one-quarter. Manufacturing had one of the lowest rates (about 6% in 2005).
The incidence in most of the major occupational groups also remained about the same or declined slightly. Just as in 2000, employees in social sciences and education had the highest incidence in 2005 (29%). Sales and service occupations registered a low incidence (6%).
Teleworkers put in relatively few hours at home
The majority of teleworkers put in just a few hours of work (10 or less) at home each week, but the proportion doing so in 2005 was higher than in 2000 (71% versus 65%). In both years, only 3% of teleworkers put in over 40 hours. The average in 2005 was 17 hours.
Contrary to expectation, the strong growth in telework during the 1990s was not sustained in the 2000s. Indeed, the number of employees doing some or all of their regularly scheduled work at home stalled at 1.3 to 1.4 million. The overall incidence remained unchanged at about 10%. The reasons for the stall, which was widespread, are unclear. It could have been partly caused by employees and employers re-evaluating the advantages, disadvantages and effectiveness of this type of work arrangement. In addition, continuing developments in information and telecommunications technology now permit many employees to work effectively from many places other than home.
Main reason for working at home
When employees in 2005 were asked the main reason for working at home, approximately a quarter said it was a requirement of the job; one-fifth said conditions were better at home; one-sixth said the arrangement helped save money; and one-twelfth said it helped them in caring for children and other family members and in meeting personal obligations.
The information in this update is from the 2000 and 2005 General Social Survey. In 2000, a representative sample of 25,000 non-institutional respondents aged 15 and over in all provinces were surveyed about their use of computers and the Internet. Data were collected over 12 months from January to December 2000. In 2005, 20,000 respondents used a 24-hour diary to record the time they spent on various activities.
Possible impediments to telework growth
Several things could account for the stall in telework growth. An obvious possibility is that continuing re-evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of telework may have lowered its attractiveness for both employees and employers (see The pros and cons of working at home). For example, growth in employer-assisted day-care programs (including on-site day-care centres) and improved transportation networks may have helped reduce the need to work at home. Also, the growing need for greater information security, especially after 9/11, as well as for closer communication among workers may make telework less desirable for employers. Another possibility is continuing advancements in information technology. The use of laptops, BlackBerries and mobile phones, and the growing proliferation of communication centres may facilitate work from many other places, such as cars, airports, railway and bus terminals, and satellite offices.
Pros and cons of working at home
Working at home has both advantages and disadvantages. For the employee, this arrangement allows more flexibility to schedule activities; makes it easier to balance work and personal or family demands; reduces expenses for transportation, clothing and food; and cuts commuting time. On the negative side, working at home may reduce one's social circle, stifle career advancement, or even
For the employer, a work-from-home arrangement may increase employee productivity, reduce expenses for work space, improve recruitment and retention of employees, and reduce absenteeism. Among the most commonly cited disadvantages are problems related to co-ordination and communication, lack of control over quality of work, and problems associated with information security.
- Estimates of the number of people working at home date back to the 1971 Census. Since then, the Survey of Work Arrangements (SWA), the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, the General Social Survey (GSS), and the Workplace and Employee Survey have all collected data on the subject. However, these surveys differ in question wording, reference period, and sample design. Indeed, for some surveys, such as the census, the questions were not identical in all years. As a result, no consistent time series exist, making it impossible to be precise on trends over the past three decades. Nevertheless, the SWA 1991 and 1995, and the GSS 2000 and 2005 are fairly comparable (see Akyeampong and Nadwodny 2001 for questions and estimates from the various surveys).
- Among the better-known telework advocacy groups are the Canadian Telework Association, a non-profit, telework-promoting organization, and Innovations Canada, a telework and flexible-work consulting organization.
- The decline of telework in public administration is particularly puzzling, since the federal Treasury Board actively supported this type of work arrangement in a policy statement dated December 6, 1999.
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Ernest B. Akyeampong retired from the Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division. For further information, contact Henry Pold at 613-951-4608 or at email@example.com.
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