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Telecommuting: You're Missing the Point If You Think It's All or Nothing

02/25/2014 02:04 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2014

You either telecommute or you don't telecommute, right? There can't possibly be any gray area when it comes to this work arrangement... or so studies like this one would have you believe. Well, that's just plain wrong.

Last November, a survey of three generations' views of workplace technology was released which claims that Millennials are, in the words of one writer, "beginning to abhor working in a virtual vacuum." But this study and its analysis miss the point by only comparing two scenarios -- work that is done 100 percent remotely, or work that is done 100 percent in the office. This all-or-nothing argument misses the much, much bigger truth that the vast majority of telecommuters go back and forth between working in the office and working at home.

Most People Only Telecommute Part-Time
According to the census, roughly 3 million Americans are full-time telecommuters. But another 15-20 million people work from home some days of the week and in the office the rest of the time. To be clear, that's a whole lot more people who are telecommuting part of the time then those who telecommute exclusively.

So, while the study did find that Millennials sometimes experience technology overload (we'd think they were truly nuts if they didn't) and often like to work in-person with their colleagues (understandably), taking those combined points and then concluding that Millennials hands-down "prefer workplace settings over telecommuting" is misleading, plain and simple.

Millennials, like many of us, want to be able to work remotely when it makes sense, and for most people, that means occasionally or part of the time, not all of the time. They want remote working to be incorporated into their work in a way that is acknowledged and permissible, rather than having an antiquated "no telecommuting" policy that doesn't acknowledge the work they do when they are remote. Even if you're not technically a telecommuter, you've probably checked work email, taken a work call, or finished a work project from home, which means you've worked remotely.

Smart Companies Offer a Variety of Telecommuting Options
I'll admit I come at all of this from a unique perspective, in that my company, FlexJobs, is completely virtual. Our entire team works from their home offices in different locations around the country. And when we're hiring, we have to be keenly aware whether the candidates are well-suited to work from home remotely, because it is most definitely not for everyone. It's not for most people, honestly. But if employers completely eliminate telecommuting options as a strategy for the future of their workplace, I would bet good money that 99 percent of those companies will be shown to be wrong.

I know that telecommuting is not an all-or-nothing trend, but has varying shades of usefulness and purpose. When I see headlines like, "Millennials prefer workplace setting over telecommuting," it gets my blood boiling a wee bit because it's quite simply not an either/or comparison. Remote workplace technology is here, "the cloud" is here, and they are not going away. So it becomes a matter of integration of telecommuting and working on-site to support the fact that each individual prefers different ways of working.

The beauty of telecommuting is that it can be a great way to help all professionals from any generation work in a way that best suits them. When it comes down to it, Millennials, like all workers, want more control over when, how and where they work, and telecommuting helps us achieve that.

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