The number of workers who take advantage of remote working has been hyped, according to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
The study, released this week, claims previous investigations into the issue have artificially inflated numbers of teleworkers by including tradesmen and other self-employed people who happen to sometimes use a computer and phone in their work.
As a result, said the report's author, CIPD chief economist Dr John Philpott, "the typical full-time teleworker is far more likely to be a mature male, white van driving, self-employed jobbing plumber or bricklayer than, as commonly portrayed, a techno-savvy post-modern office worker who looks to have just stepped off the set of the Matrix".
Only 4 percent of UK employees are defined as full-time teleworkers by the Office for National Statistics. The rate of increase in teleworking has been identified as stronger in the self-employed sector, which the report suggests could be due to their "greater use of information and communications technology". The report also describes the proportional rise as "quite small given all the hype surrounding the phenomenon".
"While government ministers and opposition politicians increasingly join forces with work-life balance campaigners and IT businesses to extol the economic, social, and environmental benefits of teleworking it is important not to hype the potential for growth in this kind of flexible work pattern," said Philpott.
Philpott suggested the phenomenon was not a "realistic prospect" for the majority of workers and added that flexible working would mostly come about through "developments in fairly mundane existing approaches" such as reduced hours, flexi-time and shift-pattern changes.
There was also a danger that irregular teleworking — doing extra computer or phone-based work from home in the evenings or on weekends — could lead to employees becoming workaholics, said Philpott.