Telecommuting: Lower pay, but fewer annoying colleagues

September 6, 2012: 10:22 AM ET

Working from home alone as an independent contractor pays less than it did two years ago. But for the introverts among us, it just might pay off. Here's why.

FORTUNE -- Working solo, and at a considerable distance from one's colleagues, isn't everybody's cup of capuccino. Yet, for an ever-growing army of independent contractors and regular employees based at home, there are a few obvious advantages. For instance, about 80% of people who telecommute say they do so in order to spend more time with their families, according to a new poll by flexible-and-freelance job site FlexJobs.com. Another big plus, said 77% of those surveyed, is avoiding a stressful daily commute.

Moreover, if you'd guess that working remotely best suits people who are loners by nature to begin with, you're right: The No. 1 reason telecommuters prefer their mode of work to the in-office alternative was "fewer interruptions from colleagues," cited by 82% of those surveyed.

What's more, just over 70% also cited fewer distractions generally, and 73% said staying away from coworkers spares them from getting tangled up in office politics. In other words, extroverts, who tend to thrive on constant interaction, including interruptions (and who may even get a kick out of political maneuvering at work), might want to think twice about whether telecommuting -- despite its other attractions -- would make sense for them.

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"Quite frankly, we expected commuting stress to top the list of reasons why people like working from home," says FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton Fell. "We were surprised at how many chose fewer interruptions from colleagues as their biggest reason."

Part of the explanation could be that solitude is often a boon to creativity. When Elance, another career site aimed at matching freelancers with employers, analyzed its job postings in July, its researchers found that employers were looking for 60% more freelance creative talent than in the summer of 2011. Among the fastest-growing fields, says the Elance report, are web design (up 574%) and content writing (256%). Postings for other skilled professionals who can do much of their work at home alone, like architects, also jumped by triple digits.

In some fields, however, it seems that a staff job with telecommuting privileges beats freelancing in one important respect: Higher pay. According to DoNanza, a job site exclusively for the self-employed, the supply of independent contractors is beginning to outstrip demand. Job postings for freelance translators, for instance, have risen by 30% since 2010, but average pay has dropped by about 31% over the same period. Likewise, the number of postings on for videographers has soared 329% in the past two years, but average pay has nonetheless decreased by about 33% due to an oversupply of talent.

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"Our data show that the freelance marketplace has changed dramatically," says DoNanza CEO Liran Kotzer. "Just in the past year alone, rewards went down in almost every area, including social media marketing, design, advertising, virtual assistants, and software development. It's clear that increases in demand have been outstripped by the supply of qualified freelancers." Something to think about before you ditch your pesky colleagues to become your own boss.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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