Yahoos decision earlier this month to bring the companys remote workers back to the office sparked a national conversation about the practice, one that is on the rise and could have an economic impact on rural areas.
The number of people who work remotely increased 73 percent from 2005 to 2011, according to Telework Research Network, an employment research firm.
Rural communities and vacation areas are recruiting more telecommuters so they have people year-round to boost the local economy, said Kate Lister, co-founder of Global Workplace Analytics, which collects data for the research network.
The rise in telecommuters is changing how communities recruit businesses because they are recruiting individuals, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
Its opened the potential for people coming here, he said. Were not selling to a company ... were selling a place to live.
Hiring telecommuters also helps the local real estate market because there is limited space for companies to build their headquarters, he said.
About 63 percent of employers surveyed in a Families and Work Institute study reported allowing at least some employees to work from home on an occasional basis, up from 34 percent in a similar study done in 2005, according to an Associated Press article.
Even more people want the option of working from home at least on a part-time basis.
Eighty percent of workers want the option, and workers with more flexibility are more loyal to their employers, Lister said.
Theyre less stressed, less inclined to quit and more highly engaged, she said. Theyre sick less often because they are less exposed to sick people.
A company can save $10,000 to $13,000 a year on one employee that telecommutes part-time because of his or her increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, she said.
Having a staff of teleworkers severely decreases a startups expenses. The company doesnt have to pay for desks, a building or any of the various costs associated with the infrastructure, said Walker Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing for WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions, who telecommutes from his home office in Durango.
Thompson said the hardest part of telecommuting is maintaining connections among employees.
The emotional contact I need to thrive can be overlooked. High performers will bail if they dont have that contact, he said. One of the challenges as a leader is understanding what an employee needs and then actually doing it.
He uses Google Hangout an Internet service that allows real-time chats, face-to-face meetings and the like to connect with employees and he uses Google documents so the entire team can share a document and add to it. It creates a collaborative atmosphere even though theyre not in the same office, he said.
While telecommuters have the benefit of working from home, it can be harder to stop working at the end of the day and return to normal life.
The physical departure has an emotional thread. You can cut the thread a little bit if you are physically leaving, Thompson said.
That is part of the benefit of working in Durango Space, said co-founder Jasper Welch. When the day is done, the employees walk out of the office, and the space gives them another place to connect.
But experts acknowledge telecommuting isnt for everybody.
When one person isnt in the office every day, its harder to communicate, said Shane Larson, a software engineer for MarkIt on Demand who telecommutes from Mancos. You need someone who is a self-starter, who doesnt need constant supervision and management.