Is Telecommuting Still an Option in an Economic Downturn?


In a recent post here at WWD, Dawn Foster brought up a discussion about the direction that online freelancing is likely to take this year.  It might be interesting to look at the other half of the web working population – corporate employees who are telecommuting or plan to do so.

A year ago, the outlook for corporate telecommuting seemed optimistic.  More and more businesses and government agencies were taking the risk to allow their employees to telework.  This was good news to cubicle dwellers who saw teleworking as a way to achieve better work-life balance and for business owners to attract top talent and cut costs in the long run.

Then, the economy turned out in such a way that taking these risks suddenly became too risky.  In times like these, businesses will lean towards one of two approaches to this dilemma:

1) Innovation

Some businesses will take the economy’s current state as a cue to find innovative solutions to their problems.  According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, around 31 percent of employers claim that they are planning to provide alternative work arrangements to their employees.  Out of that 31 percent, 48 percent are considering telecommuting as part of their plans.

This minority will be the innovators of telecommuting and other alternative work practices.  They’re the ones who will view the downturn as an opportunity to explore the benefits of telecommuting and use it as a way to maintain their competitive edge.

2) Protection

Based on the same survey, majority of employers don’t seem to think that the downturn is the best time to experiment on working arrangements.  Since more budget cuts and layoffs are on the way in several industries, some employers probably won’t risk spending their funds and working hours on telecommuting initiatives.  Their eyes would be fixed on other problems such as increasing profit and keeping running expenses low.

Even the employees themselves might want to take protective measures.  The looming threat of more layoffs might force teleworkers to assert their physical presence as a way of trying to save their jobs.  They might feel more vulnerable to layoffs because it might be harder for them to prove their performance when they’re not inside the office – especially if the company doesn’t have a proper performance qualifying system in place for teleworkers.

Whether your company tends to be innovative or protective, neither approach is necessarily better than the other.  Innovation without doing the proper research and studies first will lead to misspent money and time.  Being too protective of existing working environments and traditions, on the other hand, decreases a businesses chances of adapting during dramatic changes in the economy.  What we need in these times are solutions that are creative, well-studied, and will produce measurable results.

What are your predictions for the fate of telecommuting in 2009?  Is your company going to lean towards innovation or protection?



I am doing some study on teleworking and it’s a initial stage at this point. What interest me is to look at how teleworking change the working relationship between superiors (managers, employers) and subordinates (workers, employees. Anyone has any view on this??

Ruud Padt

In my opinion telecommuting is possible for professionals but it has to involve every employer AND Yes it can involve every Desk-worker !!!!
This means Team-Building, Training on the job, Trust and unofficial gossip to match ideas….all during Telecommuting
We can give this trough Full-time HQ Video and Audio for every person.
Constantly seeing eachother will really build a team.
Check it out at hr.telebeing in the Netherlands (nl)
or join the linkedin group: “teleworking”
Ruud Padt


I’ve been working from home for almost two years now. I can’t imagine wasting time and money commuting to work again. It’s a true win/win situation. What company can afford not to look at telecommuting as an option, particularly in tough economic times?


I have been teleworking most of the time for the last 3 years. It takes some discipline, but there is no difference between being at home or in the office. I have my computer and phone. Everyone I work with are in other cities or offices.

What’s more, there is still a labour shortage on the horizon as baby boomers retire. The current market downturn job losses are a drop in the bucket in comparison to what is coming. Employers will HAVE to offer alternative arrangements and innovation will be key.

I even refused a job offer because I would have to go in to the office every day. I value the extra time I get from not having to fight traffic and the flexibility working from home affords me. I also appreciate that my employer is forward looking enough to realize it!


Tons of companies are fence-sitting between innovation and protection. I feel innovation is the only way to survive in our down economy. I’m not sure how layoffs and downsizing will help in the long-term for struggling companies… just doing less of the same thing doesn’t improve anything!

The costs involved in layoffs (unemployment payments, etc.) minimize the financial relief they are supposed to create, while the ROI for starting a telework program adds up quickly. Real estate costs alone save millions of dollars a year (@thisismyurl: even in Canada- ie. IBM).

“Performance qualifying systems” like ROWE are really crucial to help managers make the shift towards telework. If employees want to telecommute, they can take the initiative to quantify their work performance. Proof of increased productivity goes a long way! Let’s give a gentle nudge to the fence sitters… the grass is greener, after all!


It’s interesting to me that the Canadian economy has never really become a strong supporter of telecommuting. I have friend in the UK and the US who do IT work from home but here, the market appears to still believe being ‘onsite’ is better. I’d love to hear from other web people in Canada, maybe there’s a big pool of work out there and I’m just missing it.

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