When Chuck (Tom Hanks) was stranded on a remote island in the movie Cast Away his only conversation was with a deflated volleyball he called Wilson. Wilson wasn’t much of a talker but he was a terrific listener and was of great psychological assistance as Chuck tried to survive with no other human contact. Working remotely is perhaps not quite as challenging as surviving on a remote island. But ….

But Chuck’s need to chat to Wilson underlines how humans are social animals. It should not, therefore, be surprising that some people find it more difficult than others to work separately from everyone else in their organization.

Widespread broadband in the home, combined with advances in wireless and mobile technology mean that, in theory now more than ever, workers can be just as productive and efficient working outside the office. Tools such as Instant Messaging, VoIP and other collaborative utilities certainly assist in keeping remote workers in touch with their colleagues.

However, a new report commissioned by the Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that only 11% of all US workers telecommute either full-time or part-time. The report also indicates that even if workers had the option to telecommute regularly the majority would prefer to brave the traffic and come into the office.

An alternative study by In-Stat/MDR indicates that in 2004 there were 44 million telecommuters in the US equal to about 30% of the total workforce but the research firm does not predict the number of telecommuters to grow significantly between 2004 to 2008, despite the fact that the option of telecommuting will only become available to a growing percentage of the workforce.

For managers or employees considering embarking on remote working, some of the potential business benefits include reduced real estate overheads, improved worker productivity and employee retention, but the evidence would suggest that the leading obstacle, which will not go away, is that the majority of workers need human interaction.

Remote working can be lonely and isolating. Even with a deflated volleyball by your side…

More here.