The World Agrees: Working From Home Is Good For Women

women working from homeMore companies are letting employees work from home, and no one has welcomed the shift more than women -- the half of the population that still does most of the home-based work. It's much easier to pick the kids up from school, do the grocery shopping, wait for the plumber, and do your daily eight hours labor when your workstation is 20 feet from your front door.

It seems logical that companies open to telecommuting would retain more female talent, and over a quarter of Americans think that's true. That's according to a new international survey of 11,000 people, conducted by market researcher Ipsos on behalf of Reuters.

Nine percent of workers in both North America and Europe said they telecommute "on a frequent basis." (Eight percent of Americans worked from home in 2005, according to U.S. census data.) And among those who strongly agreed that this freedom "keeps talented women in the workplace" were 26 percent of Americans, 24 percent of Great Britons, 22 percent of Canadians, and 14 percent of Swedes.

While the U.S. and other developed nations like to think of themselves as the early adopters among the world's countries -- the leading innovators and drivers of 21st century trends, in this case the opposite is true. In India, 56 percent of workers said that they frequently worked outside the office, as did 34 percent of Indonesians, 30 percent of Mexicans, 29 percent of Argentinians, and 27 percent of Turks.

Workers in developing countries were also far more likely to see this as a winning strategy for retaining female employees. Half of Indonesians strongly agreed with that fact, as did 51 percent of Hungarians, 53 percent of Poles, 62 percent of Russians and 64 percent of Turks.

It's possible that in many of these countries, gender roles are more defined, explained Karen Sumberg, senior vice president at the Center for Talent Innovation. And so the population is more excited by the idea that women could earn a living, while still staying in the home, and fulfilling those duties.

"You're always cautious that it [telecommuting] keeps people on track to being leaders in their organizations, and doesn't sideline them," Sumberg added. Telecommuting has also been around longer in Europe than in the Middle East, Africa or Latin America, so Europeans "may not see it as the panacea for women in the workplace, and may find it harder for them to break free from traditional roles."

But the control and autonomy that comes from working at home is an alternative to office life that can benefit everyone, not only women. "It positively correlates with engagement," said Sumberg. (Although there may be some negative side effects, like the loss of a strict regimen, being left out of office banter and, potentially, a decline in social skills.) It also allows workers to skip the commute, which past studies have found, women view as much more stressful.

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