Working at home: An update
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by Martin Turcotte
What you should know about this study
Evolution of working at home between 2000 and 2008
More than 1 in 5 university-graduate employees work at home
Professionals' tendency to work at home varies by industry
Among employees, women are less likely than men to work at home
Among the self-employed, women are more likely than men to work at home
Why work at home?
Employees who live outside urban areas are less likely to work at home
Distance between home and work is positively correlated with the incidence of working at home
Perceptions also affect the popularity of working at home
Working at home and work–life balance
In the post-industrial economy, where nearly 3 out of 4 jobs are in services, a growing number of workers are able to do their work with very few tools—basically a telephone and a computer with Internet access. For most workers, these tools are readily available at home, since many households adopted new information technologies at a rapid pace in the 2000s.1
A number of factors came together resulting in the increasing popularity of working at home over the last decade: a greater number of jobs requiring computer use, more willingness by some employers to allow working at home (particularly in the public sector), increasing public awareness about work–life balance,2etc. However, although the working-at-home expansion has been observed to some extent among self-employed workers, the same cannot be said for employees. For example, an earlier study by Statistics Canada revealed that, after substantial growth in the 1990s, there was a very small increase in the proportion of employees working at home between 2000 and 2005 (either full- or part-time, excluding overtime).3 Do the most recent statistics show the same trend?
This question is addressed in the first part of this article, with data from various cycles of the General Social Survey from 2000 to 2008. The characteristics of workers who are most likely to work at home are outlined in the second part of the article, and the reasons why some people work at home are examined in the third part of the article. The fourth section focuses on how the place of residence and distance from work impact the incidence of working at home. There is also a text box on perceptions about working at home and another on work–life balance.
General Social Survey
This study uses data from the GSS from the 2000 to 2008 period. The General Social Survey (GSS) is conducted every year. GSS data for 2002 and 2007 are not presented in this article because only persons aged 45 and over were surveyed in those years. In the 2004 cycle, there were no questions about working at home.
The target population for the 2008 GSS was the non-institutional population aged 15 and over living in Canada's 10 provinces. The data were collected from February 1, 2008, to November 30, 2008. During that period, 20,000 people were interviewed. This article focuses on workers aged 15 and over, yielding a sample of 12,897 workers representing nearly 18,977,900 workers in 2008 (see definition below).
Workers: Employees and the self-employed
Workers in this study are persons who had paid employment or were self-employed at some point in the previous 12 months. For the majority of them, working at a paid job or being self-employed was their main activity during the year. There are two types of workers: employees (paid workers) and the self-employed. About 85% of all workers are employees. This study includes workers from every industry, including the public sector, for every reference year (2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008).
Working at home
To identify people who worked at home, workers were asked the following question: "Some people do all or some of their paid work at home. Excluding overtime, do you usually work any of your scheduled hours at home?" Those who answered "yes" were asked, "How many paid hours per week do you usually work at home?"
The expression "working at home" rather than "teleworking" is used in this article. First, the concept of teleworking applies mostly to employees, and this study also provides information on the self-employed.1 Second, while teleworking does not necessarily involve working at home, working at home does. Third, telework is implicitly associated with the use of information technology. In contrast, while most people who work at home2 use the newer technologies, not all of them do so (for example, some artists or craftspeople can easily work at home without such devices).
Overtime worked at home, whether paid or not, is not included in this study's definition of working at home.
Satisfaction with work–life balance
In the 2008 GSS, respondents were asked, "How satisfied are you with the balance between your job and home life?" Their response options were "very satisfied," "satisfied," "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied," "dissatisfied" and "very dissatisfied,"
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The number of employees working at home in 2008 was 1,748,600, compared with 1,425,700 in 2000. Despite this increase, the proportion of employees working at home remained relatively stable during the 2000s (Chart 1). In 2008, 11.2% of employees worked at home, 1 percentage point more than in 2000.4 While there is an upward trend, the increase is small and the pace moderate.5
The situation is somewhat different for self-employed workers—the incidence of working at home for this group has increased in recent years. After a few years of stagnation, their participation rate climbed from 54% to 60% between 2006 and 2008 (Chart 1). In other words, 1,842,000 self-employed persons worked at home in 2008.
The combined effect of the slight increase for employees and the more substantial one for the self-employed pushed the overall proportion of people working at home up about two percentage points between 2000 and 2008 (from 17% to 19%).
In general, employees who work at home do so on a part-time basis. In 2008, the median hours worked at home by full-time employees was 8 hours per week, unchanged from 2000 (for employees with the same characteristics) (data not shown). A minority worked at home more than one day per week, with 67% of them doing so for 10 hours or less per week.
Not all jobs provide the opportunity to work at home. Professionals' duties, for example, are often well-suited to working at home. However, customer-service (e.g., retail trade and accommodation industry) or assembly-line (manufacturing) workers seldom, if ever, have the same opportunity. Research has shown that, overall, more highly educated employees, who often hold jobs involving greater independence, found it easier than others to get permission from their employers to work at home.6
The latest data from the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS) confirm the findings of previous studies on the existence of disparities between occupational groups in the incidence of working at home.7 For example, the proportion of employees who had worked at home in 2008 was 23% for professionals and managers, compared with 7% for sales and service workers (Table 1). There was also a large difference based on education: 22% of university graduates worked at home, compared with 7% of high school graduates.
The variation in participation rates by worker characteristics was reflected in the profiles of employees who do and those who do not work at home. In 2008, for example, 54% of all employees who worked at home had a university degree, compared with 25% of those who never worked at home. Similarly, 55% of employees who worked at home at least occasionally were in professional or managerial jobs, compared with 23% of employees who did not work at home. In addition, 52% of employees who worked at home had a personal income of more than $60,000 a year, compared with 25% of employees who did not work at home (data not shown).
Professionals are among the workers most likely to work at home. Though poorly documented, their tendency to work at home varies appreciably by industry (Chart 2). In the health care and social assistance sector, for example, 8% of professional employees worked at home (Chart 2). This is probably due to the fact that physicians and nurses have to deal directly with their patients. In comparison, 27% of educational services professionals worked at home at least occasionally. Aside from their work in the classroom, teachers have various ancillary duties associated with class preparation and homework and test correction that can generally be performed at home.
In short, since the nature of the work performed varies from one industry to another (and even within industries), it may be difficult to ascribe greater work-at-home opportunities to specific occupational groups.
For all types of employees combined, the data show that women were slightly less likely than men to work at home (10% and 12% respectively).8 Among professional employees, however, the gap between men and women was wider: 29% of male professionals worked at home compared with 19% of female professionals in 2008. This difference may be attributable in part to the fact that women are overrepresented among health professionals, especially nursing professionals (who seldom work at home).
Employees who usually worked 50 or more hours per week, had on-call or irregular work schedules and were not unionized were also among those with a higher-than-average incidence of working at home (Table 1). An analysis of data from Statistics Canada's Workplace and Employee Survey has shown that non-unionized workers (especially those working for smaller businesses) had more opportunities for variable schedules and working at home.9
In addition, employees who had children aged 12 and under were somewhat more likely than those who did not to work at home (13% and 10% respectively).
In some respects, the differences in working-at-home participation across the various categories of employees were echoed in the self-employed population. For example, self-employed workers with a university degree were also more likely to work at home. However, there were some differences—among self-employed workers, women were more likely than men to work at home (67% and 56% respectively), whereas the opposite was true among employees.
Working at home is generally thought of as an option that, when available, allows employees the choice of whether or not they wish to work at home. For many employees, however, working at home all or some of the time is not necessarily a choice. The most common reason for working at home (25% of employees) was that it was a job requirement or they had no choice (Table 2).10 The next most common reasons were that it provided better working conditions (23%) and that home was their usual place of work (18%).
The likelihood of declaring home as the usual place of work varied depending on certain worker characteristics. For instance, 30% of part-time employees (those working less than 30 hours per week) said home was their usual place of work, compared with 14% of employees working between 30 and 49 hours per week. College or university graduates, on the other hand, were less likely to identify their home as their usual place of work—they were more likely to say that working at home provided better working conditions.
Not surprisingly, employees and the self-employed with a child at home were more likely to say that they were working at home for family reasons. Unlike employees, female self-employed workers were more likely than their male counterparts to be working at home for family-related reasons (caring for children or other family members, or other personal or family responsibilities). In 2008, 12% of female self-employed workers reported that they were working at home for family reasons, compared with 3% of their male counterparts (Table 2). Moreover, 25% of female self-employed workers with children aged 12 and under at home said they were working at home for family-related reasons (compared with 10% of men in the same situation) (data not shown). Some self-employed women probably chose to work at home (temporarily or permanently) because of their family responsibilities. This group of women entrepreneurs has even been dubbed 'mompreneurs'11 by some.
The collection of information on reasons for working at home began only recently. There were no noteworthy changes in the reasons given by employees and the self-employed between 2005 and 2008. At the moment, no information is available regarding reasons for not working at home.
When the new information technologies emerged and gained popularity, some authors speculated that working at home might become more widespread and that workers might move away from metropolitan areas, because they could perform their duties without ever going to the office.12 However, those predictions never materialized. Only a minority of employees work at home, almost none do it on a full time basis, and metropolitan areas continue to grow.
In 2008, employees who lived in metropolitan areas (12%) were more likely than those who did not (9%) to work at home (Table 1). This is consistent with the results of a similar study in the United States.13 According to the authors, face-to-face contact between workers is too important, especially for worker well-being, sense of attachment to the company, innovation, productivity and knowledge-sharing. In their view, the decentralization of the workplace is highly unlikely in the short term.
Encouraging more workers to work at home occasionally is frequently mentioned as a way to help reduce traffic congestion.14 The opportunity to avoid heavy traffic or driving many kilometres to work on a daily basis might encourage people to work at home for a few days from time to time. That is what the figures suggest, to some degree. Of employees who lived within 4 kilometres of their workplace, 7% had worked at home, compared with 13% of those who lived at least 30 kilometres away (Table 1).
However, living in an area where commuting between home and work was not so easy was not associated with a higher frequency of working at home. In Canada, the two metropolitan areas with the longest average commuting times are Toronto and Montréal,15 but the proportion of employees who had worked at home was not appreciably higher there than in areas with shorter average commuting times (Table 1).
Besides educational attainment, the popularity of certain types of occupations and the performance of certain industries in the economy, other factors may influence the popularity of working at home.
One such factor is both employees' and employers' perception of the pros and cons of working at home. Many tend to believe that most employees like the idea of working at home. According to some sources, however, numerous employees have found working at home to be an unsatisfactory experience for a variety of reasons: a lack of workplace interaction and a feeling of isolation, feeling forgotten by the employer, negative response from co-workers, difficulty separating job-related activities from family roles and responsibilities, etc.1 Some people realized that they did not have the right kind of personality (a high level of independence, the ability to work alone, etc.)2 to work at home. Such negative perceptions, if widespread, could reduce employee demand to work at home.
On the other hand, it is also possible that employers have been limiting work-at-home arrangements. For example, according to some sources, many employers recognize the positive effects working at home have on reducing operating costs (office space, energy costs, etc.) but remain skeptical about the value of such arrangements. Their perceptions of disadvantages include difficulty supervising employees, lack of communication, security issues associated with information handling, decline in team spirit and sense of attachment to the company, and problems with the confidentiality of information.3 According to some experts, the slower-than-expected growth in the incidence of working at home is mainly due to managers' reluctance—they would rather continue managing behaviour (physical presence in the office for many hours) than results (completed tasks).4 In a nutshell, the factors underlying the evolution of working at home (in terms of industry and human capital changes) cannot be completely understood until certain information about the supply and demand of working at home is available.
- For further details, see Ellison, Nicole B. 2004. Telework and Social Change: How Technology is Reshaping the Boundaries Between Home and Work. Westport. Preager Publishers.
- See the InnoVisions Canada website (www.ivc.ca) for references concerning personal qualities that are important for positive, successful home-working experiences.
- Levitt, Howard. 2009. "Beware of time wasters: How to monitor staff who say they are on outside calls." National Post. FP Careers. FP12.
- For a summary of these studies and arguments, see Ellison 2004.
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One of the most frequently cited advantages of working at home is that it promotes better work–life balance.1 For example, working at home provides greater freedom in choosing working hours and helps reduce commuting time. It also allows more time for domestic activities like child care, and time saved can be spent on recreational activities. On the other hand, as some other studies have pointed out, people who work at home could have increased workloads—after all, the office is never very far away. As a result, the boundary between personal life and work can become blurred, perhaps lowering satisfaction with work–life balance2 (due to greater interference between family roles and job-related responsibilities).3
To focus on a more homogeneous population of employees and eliminate people whose work responsibilities probably have less impact on their personal lives, the following analyses are restricted to full-time employees (those working 30 hours or more per week).
According to data from the General Social Survey, employees who worked at home did not have a greater sense of balance between job and home life. In 2008, those who worked at home more than 10 hours per week were even slightly more likely than those who never worked at home to report that they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their work–life balance (17% for employees who worked at home 10 hours or more per week, 14% for those who worked at home less than 10 hours per week, and 12% for those who did not work at home).
However, this difference in dissatisfaction levels was entirely due to the fact that employees who worked at home, especially those who worked more than 10 hours, also tended to have high total work hours (and the more hours they worked, the less satisfied they were with their work–life balance). For equal hours worked, employees who worked at home showed no difference from those who did not in satisfaction or dissatisfaction levels (according to a logistic regression model not shown).
This result was supported by the finding that among full-time employees who said they were dissatisfied with their work–life balance, 54% of those who worked at home attributed their dissatisfaction to spending too much time working. For employees who never worked at home, the proportion was 44%.
- Kurland, Nancy B. and Diane E. Bailey. 1999. "Telework: The advantages and challenges of working here, there, anywhere and anytime."Organizational Dynamics. Vol. 28, no. 2. Fall. p. 53-68.
- Bailey, Diane E. and Nancy B. Kurland. 2002. "A review of telework research: Findings, new directions, and lessons for the study of modern work." Journal of Organizational Behavior. Vol. 23, no. 4. p. 383-400. Kurland and Bailey 1999.
- Golden, Timothy D. John F. Veiga and Zeki Simsek. 2006. "Telecommuting's differential impact on work–family conflict: Is there no place like home?" Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 91, no. 6. p. 1340-1350.
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Between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of employees working at home rose one percentage point to 11.2%. However, there was considerable variation in the incidence of working at home by level of education, occupation, industry and number of hours worked. The employees most likely to work at home were university graduates, managers (especially in the health care and social assistance sector) and professionals. Participation was highest in the professional, scientific and technical services sector.
Even though about 15% of all workers in Canada are self-employed, they account for about one-half of those who work at home. In 2008, 60% of self-employed workers did paid work at home: 67% for women and 56% for men.
The three most common reasons given by employees for working at home were work requirements (25%), better working conditions (23%) and home being their usual place of work (18%).
The data also show that, in urban areas, workers who lived farther from their workplaces were more likely to work at home than those who lived closer. Those living outside urban areas were less likely to work at home.
Martin Turcotte is a senior analyst with Canadian Social Trends, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada.
- For example, the proportion of households with a computer at home nearly doubled in 10 years, climbing from 40% in 1997 to 79% in 2008. The proportion of households with Internet access grew even faster, jumping from 17% in 1997 to 75% in 2008 (CANSIM, Table 203-0020, Survey of Household Spending).
- While some researchers believe that working at home increases satisfaction with work–life balance, others are not convinced, even arguing that it may erode satisfaction in some cases. For example, see Golden, Timothy D., John F. Veiga and Zeki Simsek. 2006. "Telecommuting's differential impact on work–family conflict: Is there no place like home?" Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 91, no. 6. p. 1340-1350. See also Ellison, Nicole B. 2004. Telework and Social Change: How Technology is Reshaping the Boundaries Between Home and Work. Westport. Preager Publishers.
- Akyeampong, Ernest B. 2007. "Working at home: An update." Perspectives on Labour and Income. Vol. 8, no. 6. June. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-X. p. 16-18.
- The difference between 2000 and 2008 is barely statistically significant (p = 0.0492).
- There are other methodologies besides the one used in the General Social Survey to measure the incidence of working at home, which may lead to different conclusions about its evolution over time. For example, a 2001 EKOS survey found that if the definition of working at home were expanded to include overtime worked at home, 40% of Canadians (employees and self-employed workers) would have worked at home at least occasionally. See EKOS Research Associates. 2001. Canadians and Working from Home. Ottawa. May 18. In addition, the Census of Population measures working at home as a usual place of work, which contributes to lower estimates of the proportion of people working at home (for most people, home is not the usual place of work, since they only work there occasionally). For more details, see Statistics Canada. 2008. Commuting Patterns and Places of Work of Canadians, 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 97-561-XIE. Ottawa.
- For a summary of the research, see Bailey, Diane E. and Nancy B. Kurland. 2002. "A review of telework research: Findings, new directions, and lessons for the study of modern work." Journal of Organizational Behavior. Vol. 23, no. 4. p. 383-400.
- Akyeampong, Ernest B. 2007; Bureau Of Labor Statistics. 2005. Work at Home in 2004. Washington.
- The slight difference between men and women was not statistically significant when the following factors were controlled for simultaneously in a logistic regression: level of education, occupation, number of hours worked per week, union status, work schedule, employee age, presence of a child, and distance between home and work (results not shown).
- Confort, Derrick, Karen Johnson and David Wallace. 2003. Part-time Work and Family-friendly Practices in Canadian Workplaces. The Evolving Workplace Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 71-584-MIE. Ottawa.
- Some workers may choose their jobs specifically because of the requirement to work at home. However, the proportion cannot be estimated.
- See Ellison. 2004.
- Toffler, Alvin. 1981. The Third Wave. New York. Bantam Publishing. For a summary of the debate on this topic, see Gould Ellen, Ingrid and Katherine Hempstead. 2002. "Telecommuting and the demand for urban living: A preliminary look at white-collar workers." Urban Studies. Vol. 39, no. 4, p. 749-766.
- Gould Ellen and Hempstead. 2002.
- Downs, Anthony. 2002. Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion. Washington. Brookings Institution Press.
- Turcotte, Martin. 2006. The Time it Takes to Get to Work and Back. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-622-XIE. Ottawa.
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