Telework ranks swell

* Occasional teleworkers on the rise while full-time telework population shrinks

Working from home is an increasingly popular option for U.S. employees - at least occasionally.

The number of U.S. employees, contractors and business owners who worked remotely at least one day per month increased 17% in the past two years, from approximately 28.7 million in 2006 to 33.7 million in 2008, according to global HR association WorldatWork. In the five-year period since 2003, the total number of once-a-month telecommuters in the U.S. has risen 43%.

Interestingly, there has been a shift away from full-time telework to occasional telework. The number of employee teleworkers who work remotely at least once a month grew, while the number of those who work remotely almost every day decreased slightly, WorldatWork found in its survey brief, “Telework Trendlines 2009.”

“Our study shows that occasional telework has risen dramatically,” said Rose Stanley, work-life practice leader at WorldatWork, in a statement. “Employers seem more willing to try new ways of working. We receive calls on a daily basis from employers wanting to learn how to pilot a telework program, the do’s and don’ts of managing virtual workers, and how to use telework to reward and motivate talent.”

But while the opportunity to telework can be a positive option in terms of employee flexibility and work-life balance, what does it mean for application delivery? Vendors such as Citrix, Blue Coat and Riverbed offer so-called “soft WOCs” or lightweight, client versions of their WAN optimization controllers geared for individual users such as teleworkers and mobile workers.

Soft WOCs offer some of the same acceleration technologies that make serving applications from a centralized data center tolerable for branch-office dwellers. They can mitigate issues such as varying levels of Internet service and connectivity that can derail file transfers and application delivery.

But in a lousy economy, a soft WOC purchase can be hard to justify, particularly if employees are not teleworking full-time. (Notably, Blue Coat doesn’t charge for its base ProxyClient software with WAN optimization, which is available for free to customers using Blue Coat's ProxySG appliances.)

So I’ll put this question out to readers: When does it make sense to deploy client-based WAN optimization software? What types of users/applications need it most? I’ll share any feedback in a future newsletter.

Meanwhile, I’ll close with a few last tidbits from the WorldatWork research: Home is the most common location for remote work (cited by 87% of teleworkers), followed by a customer’s place of business (41%) and car (37%). Restaurants, libraries and parks are becoming less common locations for telecommuting, WorldatWork says.

In addition, a demographic breakdown of WorldatWork’s survey respondents finds that today’s telecommuters are most often 40-year-old males who are college graduates, living in a household earning $75,000 or more per year.

The Dieringer Research Group surveyed 1,002 adults between Nov. 6 and Dec. 2, 2008, for WorldatWork’s Trendlines report. A full copy of the report is available here.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.