Study: 17% of Telecommuters Do Only 1 Hour of Work a Day

Last Updated Sep 16, 2011 8:12 AM EDT

There are slackers, and then there are slackers. A new survey by CareerBuilder shows that nearly one in five of workers who say they are working from home spend one hour a day-or even less-actually working.

Not everyone is being quite so lazy. Here's how many hours telecommuters claim to work:
  • Eight hours or more: 35%
  • Four to seven hours a day: 40%
  • Less than four hours but more than one hour: 8%
  • One hour or less: 17%
I wonder if those 17% of telecommuters who claim to work less than one hour a day actually have formal telecommuting arrangements, or if their telecommuting days are of the "My kid is sick, I'll be working from home today," variety

In the latter case, I don't think anyone expects all that much work to get done unless Junior takes a big nap. But for the employee, it saves face to say, "I'm working from home," rather than "My kid is sick, and I'll be out too." In the best-case scenario, the parent can bang out a few emails on his or her blackberry and keep the rest of the team from falling too far behind while he or she waits for a doctor's appointment.

If, on the other hand, those who do almost no work from home actually have a formal teleworking agreement, I don't know whether to be impressed or appalled. If you really can do all your work in just four days a week, it seems like the fair thing to do is just ask for a four-day-a-week schedule (I'm saying the fair thing. Not the realistic thing). This stunning amount of loafing also implies that a whole lot of employees are being evaluated based on face time rather than productivity--a huge management problem in itself--and that they simply don't have enough work to do.

The CareerBuilder numbers, believe it or not, actually show a more diligent workforce than a similar survey conducted in 2007. While this year 35% of telecommuters put in eight hours a day or more, in 2007 just 18 percent did.

Staying Focused
Rosemary Haefner, the vice president of Human Resources for CareerBuilder, offers some tips to help telecommuters be as productive as possible. But if you're working less than an hour a day and claiming to work from home, I don't think any amount of tips are going to help. You either don't care about your job, you're working the side hustle, you're crazy lazy, and/or you're incredibly poorly managed. (I guess you could also be the one person who has managed to make good on the promise of the best-seller The Four-Hour Workweek, which even its author seems to be unable to do).

But if all you've got is a problem motivating and focusing, here's Haefner's advice:
  • Keep a normal morning routine. Shower, have breakfast and put on decent clothes, just as if you were going to the office.
  • Find the best place in your home to work, where you're least likely to be distracted.
  • Stay connected to your colleagues. When I first started working from home once a week, some of my co-workers didn't want to disturb me on what they saw as my day 'off,' and were reluctant to call or email me. The result: When I got back to the office, I was pounced upon by everyone who'd been waiting on me. And I was immediately facing a huge mound of work, much of which could have been taken care of the day before. Not productive.
  • Plan your breaks. At the office, you'll take a break by heading to the water cooler or running a quick errand, so find a way to do something similar at home. The last thing you need is to feel like a prisoner in your own home.
  • Bring your work to a coffee shop. If you're easily distracted, this might seem counter-intuitive. But from my own experience, it can really help. Haefner suggests going to a coffee shop for the camaraderie of being around other workers. That's not why I go. Every now and then I have a laundry list of boring tasks to do, and I just cannot make myself focus on them. Schlepping my laptop to the coffee shop works wonders--between the other people and the music, there's just enough buzz to distract half my brain while the other half knocks out all that boring stuff that just has to be done.
Now for the big question: How many hours a day do office workers actually spend working? Be honest-you may be in the office for eight or ten hours, but how much of that time is really spent in productive work?

RELATED Image courtesy of flickr user hello-julie
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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