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The popularity of telecommuting jobs -- employees who work from home or wherever there's an Internet connection -- is growing in Arkansas, but at a slower pace than in other states, according to a report released Wednesday by online job placement firm FlexJobs.

Full-time telecommuters accounted for 3.2 percent of working Arkansans in 2016, lower than the national average of 4.6 percent, FlexJobs said. The report was based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey data for 2016.

The number of Arkansans working remotely rose 14 percent from 2013 to 2016, FlexJobs said. Alabama, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Delaware are all experiencing similar telecommuting growth rates.

Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist at FlexJobs attributed the growth in work-at-home jobs in Arkansas to traffic congestion, a stagnant local economy, and growth in the availability of high-speed Internet.

Rural residents seeking new opportunities for work may be another cause, Reynolds said in an email.

Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said recent efforts to outsource call center operations led to more flexible, available jobs.

Call center jobs are being filled "often in rural areas where people log in for a few hours and help make calls," Jebaraj said.

Alan Ellstrand, associate dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said there's pros and cons to the work-at-home arrangement.

"Employees like it that they have a nonchaotic place to work," Ellstrand said. "And for employers it works well for them because they can reduce the amount of physical facilities."

On the flipside, Ellstrand said, employees lose out on socializing with co-workers and managers have less contact with employees.

"For companies, you really have to trust your people," he said.

Data suggest companies are adopting flexible, remote or work-from-home agreements. The number of U.S. employees working from home half of the time has more than doubled to 3.9 million since 2005, according to the FlexJobs report. Job listings for remote work increased 51 percent over the three years ending in 2017.

Ellstrand said telecommuting is a "bigger city phenomenon," but that there has been growth in smaller cities and rural communities.

Organizations ranging from Walmart and Tyson Foods to medical and computer companies are changing their policies and practices to adjust to the work-from-home trend, experts say.

The leading Arkansas businesses offering telecommuting jobs, according to FlexJobs, include Walmart, ABC Financial, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, the Northwest Arkansas Community College and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro.

Upwork, a group similar to FlexJobs, recently surveyed more than 1,000 hiring managers who say in the next 10 years "38 percent of their full-time, permanent employees will work remotely."

The number of searches for the phrase "remote working" peaked last December, Google Trends data show, up 18 percent from a year ago.

Business on 03/29/2018

Print Headline: Telecommuting growth slow in state

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