A Silver Lining to the Recession: Increased Telecommuting


The recession flooded the job market with overqualified applicants and caused employers to count their pennies and squeeze every last drop of productivity from their employees. But how exactly did it affect the remote work space? Were employers spoiled for choice and reluctant to allow flexibility and mobility? Did lean economic times increase or decrease the number of workers looking for remote gigs?

Sara Sutton Fell, the founder and CEO of flexible and telecommuting job board FlexJobs.com, is in an ideal position to know. As the economy tanked and now waveringly rights itself, she has observed the quantity, type and behavior of both employers and job hunters on her site, sussing out the effects of the economic downturn on telecommuting. She spoke to WebWorkerDaily about her observations:

When I originally started the company a little over four years ago it was pre-recession. And that was a very different market. At the time my target audience was work-from-home moms, tapping into the idea that at least in the U.S. and probably in many other countries they’re one of the most under-employed audiences. Mainly because they’re highly educated women who have left the workforce because they can’t find something that offers them the flexibility, reduced schedule or alternative schedule that accommodates their commitment to their families. So that was definitely what I anticipated to be a large majority of our audience.

With the recession it’s very much evolved to be across the board. We’re maybe about 60/40, female to male. It’s everything from entry-level to executive level. I think the recession has raised awareness among people who were skeptical or previously wouldn’t have considered flexibility or telecommuting either in their hiring practices or their job-seeking practices. From the job seeker perspective, they’ve had to look out of the box because they haven’t been able to find the traditional, normal, full-time job that they would have looked for. The awareness has been forced by the recession, but has gained momentum both from the benefits telecommuting offers, but also from other trends that have been feeding into it for some time — technology supporting mobility, the environmental issues, things like emergency preparedness, bad weather. I could go on and on.

But it’s not just job seekers who have been forced to reevaluate telecommuting due to the dismal economic conditions. Employers have taken a fresh look at web work as well, says Sutton Fell.

It’s not how I would have wished it to happen, but I do think the recession has opened employers’ eyes to the fact that these opportunities are not just fuzzy, soft benefits for employees, but they actually offer quite a wide variety of benefits for them as well, including economic benefits, which is ultimately what it’s about.

IT and tech are the traditional sectors that utilize telecommuting, but during the recession organizations in a wide variety of sectors increasingly looked to web workers, according to FlexJobs data.

In telecommuting particularly we had an over 400 percent increase of jobs our researchers would find in the last three years alone. Our categories that have grown the most are medical and health. Sales has definitely been big. Education is a really big one with all the online education opportunities. Non-profit and philanthropy is an area that has been embracing the benefits, especially the reduced overhead benefit, and also the philosophical ones, especially with environmental organizations. IT and web and software development have always been big, but business development, account management, marketing, all of those areas have grown quite a lot in the last few years.

I think employers in all industries have been looking for ways to save money, and they’re exploring either reduced or alternative schedules or some level where they don’t having to hire a traditional, on site full-time employee.

Will a boost in awareness of the benefits of telecommuting among both employers and job seekers be the silver lining to the grim economy of the past few years?

Image courtesy Flickr user mnsc

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