Yahoo, Best Buy and HP have very visibly reduced their telework programs, leading some to conclude that telework is a fading work option. But a new study suggests reports of telework’s impending death are greatly exaggerated. 

The report, “Survey on Workplace Flexibility 2013,” was conducted by global human resources association WorldatWork in conjunction with National Flex Day and National Work and Family Month. Sent to 5,000 WorldatWork members, the report found  only 3 percent of companies have actually cancelled telework programs in the past two years.

Ad Hoc Telework

While regular telework on a weekly or monthly basis is “slightly less common” than when the same survey was conducted in 2010, the report stated that ad hoc telework, available at 83 percent of participating organizations, “remains the most prevalent flexible work arrangement.”

Full-time telework is still available at 34 percent of responding organizations, down only slightly from the 37 percent that offered it in 2010. Regular telework that is not full-time is offered at more than half of the organizations, and eighty-eight percent of responding organizations provide telework of some kind.

The availability of telework on a regular weekly basis dropped by a modest five percent since the last WorldatWork survey in 2010. But, if all forms of telework are considered, there has been virtually no change in telework during that time.

One of the main issues with telework has been the difficulty that many managers (53 percent) report they have in determining their workers’ productivity. But 36 percent of managers report their teleworkers can be just as productive as in-office employees and eight percent said telecommuters are more productive.

HP, Yahoo

Last week, according to a report on the web HP was instigating a policy that required “all hands on deck” and that all employees who possibly could work from the office should do so. The internal document cited a need to build a “stronger culture of engagement and collaboration” and was attributed to a larger effort by CEO Meg Whitman to turn the company around.

The report said HP was not banning telework, but tightening rules and authorizations for it. The need for in-person collaboration is apparently complicated by the fact that HP offices do not have enough desk space for as many as 80,000 workers.

Yahoo, struggling to turn itself around, instituted a policy in February requiring employees working remotely to report to Yahoo offices. The policy change reportedly affected several hundred employees, including ones customer service reps who work in cities where Yahoo does not have offices or were hired under a teleworking arrangement. But to date, it doesn't seemed to have had an impact on the company's bottom line. Yahoo recently reported a lower outlook for the fourth quarter than expected,

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From the report, "Survey on Workplace Flexibility 2013"

Other Work Flexibility Arrangements

In May, Best Buy announced it was eliminating a flexible work program it had begun in 2005 that allowed employees to work where they wanted and gave managers more authority to determine the most appropriate arrangement. The Results Only Work Environment had emphasized the quality of work, rather than where it was performed.

Telework programs are one of the three most commonly offered work flexibility arrangements, with the other two being flextime (that is, adjustable start and stop times for working) and part-time work. Each of the three are available in more than 80 percent of surveyed companies.

Other kinds of flexwork include phased returns from leave, shift flexibility, compressed workweeks, phased retirements and job sharing. The report, which examines in detail the current state of all the major forms of flexible work, found that such workplace flexibility can positively influence such factors as employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction.