Rise of telecommuting: Working from home not such a career risk, study finds

TROY, New York — Modern technology has enabled more people than ever before to work from home. Even though telecommuting has become extraordinarily popular, people tend to think that working remotely limits their ability to rise in their careers. A recent study, however, from the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute may ease some concerns for both employees and employers alike. Essentially, the new research shows that telecommuting does not necessarily hurt one’s career.

“Although telecommuting has experienced rapid growth, some workers are reluctant to try telecommuting for fear that it will hurt their career,” says Timothy D. Golden, a professor and area head of enterprise management and organization in Lally, in a university release. “This research helps answer that critical question: Does it hurt your career if you telecommute? My study shows that it depends heavily on the employee’s work context.”

The study used actual corporate data on promotion and salary growth of 405 employees to evaluate the impact telecommuting has on their career trajectories.

“In this study, I wanted to use objective data — actual promotions and salary increases — rather than simply rely on survey responses, as had been done in previous research,” Golden says. “In this way, we can begin to uncover the true impact of telecommuting on fundamental career outcomes, such as promotions and salary growth over time.”

The office culture is one of the most important factors in determining the promotion rate of employees. Golden says that telecommuters receive more promotions if they work in an office where working from home is an accepted practice. However, telecommuters do not necessarily see the same pay raises as their fellow employees that work from the office.

Researchers also say that telecommuters who have a lot of face-time with their supervisors are more likely to see higher increases in pay, even if they worked from home for a large part of their work week. Also, telecommuters who put in extra hours outside of the regular work week are more likely to get higher raises.

Conversely, Golden says that telecommuters who work in offices where working from home is not as common or accepted, then they might not get as many promotions or as high raises as the employees who go into the office to work.

“Previous research has tended to treat all telecommuters as one homogeneous group, and my research suggests that telecommuting is not a one-size-fits-all work arrangement,” Golden says.

Golden points out that “telecommuting arrangements are often unique, and differences in these arrangements must be understood and taken into account when determining how best to be successful. This study suggests contextual factors are especially important to consider when determining telecommuting’s effect on promotions and salary growth.”

The study is published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.