Working From Home 

In an agricultural economy, the labor is performed is necessarily performed in the fields.  In a manufacturing economy, the labor is performed at factories.  In an information economy, the work is performed anywhere.  A computer programmer may show up at an office to work on a mainframe computer, which is actually physically located thousands of miles away.  This article is written in New York City, but the web server is in San Diego.  With the capabilities of modern telecommunications, there is actually no compelling reason for many jobs to have a physical location.  There are now possibilities that both employers and employees are discovering to be advantageous.  For employers, one of the perennial problems is to retain highly skilled and experienced people.  Above a certain salary, employees are looking at lifestyle issues.  For example, a worker may be willing to take another job closer to home at less pay because of the savings in commuting time or childcare issues.  Increasingly, therefore, a large number of Americans are now working from home.

We will now cite some survey data from the MARS study.  This is a mail survey of 22,097 adults 18 years or older conducted during the first quarter of 2002 in the 50 states of the United States of America.  Within this survey, the respondents were asked if they have ever worked from home.  A full 11.9% (or 24.5 million adults) said that they had worked from home.  There are a couple of nuances with regard to this question.  First, it is a cumulative measure which is therefore a higher number than the number of adults who are currently working from home.  The typical number of the current number of people who are working from home is just lower than 10 million.  Second, the term 'working from home' covers a variety of situation, including people who run a personal business, or people who maintain a home office, or people who take their office work home.

Not all jobs are of a nature such that they can be performed from home.  Jobs such as creative writing or computer programming come to mind as perhaps even more appropriate to conduct in a quiet environment.  But jobs such as office janitorial services, emergency room care or human resources administration should be conducted in person.  This would leave immediately to the question of which types of persons are more likely to have worked from home.

In the following chart, we show the incidence of working from home by age/sex.  The incidences are low for the elderly, because they worked in an era in which working from home was an uncommon concept.  The incidences are also low for the youngest, who lack the work experience and credentials and who would probably benefit greatly from supervision and tutelage.

In the next chart, we show the incidences of working from home by education and household income.  Working from home is an increasing function of education.  First of all, this reflects the ability of those with established technical credentials to name the terms of their employment.  Secondly, in quite the opposite direction, such professional people are in fact expected to put in more hours, including weekends and vacations.  Working from home is an increasing function of household income.  The oddity is that the highest income level ($250,000 or more) has a slightly lower than the merely high level of ($150,000 - $250,000).  This is the difference between professionals and senior management, who have less to do with actual doing than managing people and processes. 

Our assertion is that working from home was enabled by the telecommunications revolution.  Most business interactions were already over the telephone anyway, such that it made no difference if the other party was next door or eight thousand miles away.  The transmission of physical information was at first facilitated by overnight courier services and fax machines.  With the advent of the internet, it would appear that correspondence and documents can be rapidly disseminated.  

In the next chart, we show the incidences by internet usage characteristics.  Among those who have used the internet in the last 30 days, the incidence is 16.1% compared to 11.9% in the general population.  The incidence is considerably higher at 27.3% for those who use the internet at work.  Generally, the incidence increases with weekly time spent on the internet.

The increasing incidence of people working from home has occurred due to the needs of employees and employers.  For lifestyle reasons, many people prefer to work from home rather than at an office.  In turn, employers found it worthwhile to retain these employees.  What is not yet well-understood is the impact of working from home on the nature of the job functions and the quality of the work.  The solitude of working from home may create an atmosphere of undisturbed focus.  But it is also lacking in the kinds of interaction that facilitates problem identification and solving.

Postscript:  This article has made no reference to Latin American or US Hispanic/Latino issues.  That is correct, because our interest in the subject stems from the fact that we work primarily from home.  But we can tell you this:  Within this MARS study, the incidence of people of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino origin working from home is 7.9%, compared to 11.9% in the general population.

(posted by Roland Soong, 9/30/2002)

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