No long commutes, no dress code, no office politics, no distractions at the water cooler. It sounds like job heaven and these advantages are what have 5.6 million people working from home. That number includes 3.3 million self-employed persons according to Kate Lister, author of Undress For Success-The Naked Truth About Making Money At Home (Wiley 2009). The bottom line is rather than layoffs many companies are cutting costs by moving employees out of traditional office settings and back into their comfort zones. “There are legitimate home-based jobs with all-virtual employers, Fortune 500 companies, and small to medium-size businesses in a wide variety of professions. In addition, there are tons of opportunities to earn a full time income as a freelancer or home business owner,” Lister says on her website undress4success.com. Sarah Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.com, the leading online job service for hand-screened, legitimate telecommuting jobs says job opportunities range from entry level to executive, part time to full time and include surprising options such as virtual juror and triage nurse.
But how good is it for our already struggling economy if that much of our workforce started working in their pajamas? According to
Danny Briere, CEO of mBLAST, a web based marketing software company. “I save probably on the order of at least a million and a half dollars a year in real estate and other types of expense by having people telework”. That saved money according to Briere is funneled back into product development and also towards lowering prices for customers. According to Lister, there is a laundry list of ways teleworking can benefit our economy. “As a nation we would save over 450 million barrels of oil (57% of Gulf oil imports) valued at over $19 billion (based on $42/barrel) and save consumers $31 billion at the pumps (based on $3.50/gallon. [We’d also] reduce wear and tear on our highways by 180 billion miles a year saving communities over $3 billion in highway maintenance”. Companies who embrace teleworking can cut back on janitorial expenses, security, maintenance and a great deal of the ADA compliance that goes along with having a traditional brick and mortar business.
Telecommuting also holds promise as a green alternative for companies as well as a work life benefit. According to Lister, “cutting our oil dependence in half would be accompanied by a 84 million ton reduction in greenhouse gases. That’s the equivalent of taking 15 million cars off the road for a year or roughly the fossil fuel burn for transportation in New York State”.There are regional sites such as The Georgia Clean Air Campaign and national sites such as Undressed For Success which have numerous resources to help companies begin teleworking including options for training employees. They also provide expert advice on how to approach your management about teleworking if your company doesn’t currently offer it.
The drawbacks of teleworking vary according to the employee. Overwork is surprisingly common. According to Kate Lister, “one teleworker had such a problem stopping work every evening that he resorted to getting in his car, driving it around the block and back into his driveway to signify the end of the day”. This is in sharp contrast to the perception that teleworkers are less disciplined and professional. “I would argue that people who work for me work more and harder than in other environments,” says Briere. “I can hire the best people anywhere in the world. I’ve got people that work for me from their sailboat. I don’t care. You start to judge people by output because that’s all you have to go on. I hired my CPO over the Internet six years ago, interviewed him over the phone and only found out he was bald because he sent me a Christmas card. To this day I haven’t met him and yet he oversees millions of dollars for me”.
Many teleworkers, even those who wouldn’t consider a conventional job say isolation and lack of social contact can present a challenge. Angela Hemauer, a military spouse, has teleworked for the past three years and expects to continue. She says although she gets much more done at home than when she commutes to her company headquarters, she is constantly in danger of missing impromptu meetings, may not be seen as a go to person for solutions and has to constantly prove to her manager that she’s working. “it took some time for her to trust that I was working even though I may not be sending an email every 10 minutes,” Hemauer says. “I found that weekly calls at the beginning of the week and then a summary of accomplishments via email at the end of the week help eliminate a lot of the questions”.
Hemauer’s experience is one that Faith Peppers warns employers about when they consult her on starting a teleworking program. Peppers is the Team Leader of Public Affairs and Media Liaison for University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. She is also one of the first teleworkers in her field, having started back in 1993. “it was called “home-based” employee when I first started,” she remembers with a laugh. “There was very basic email so we relied on press releases and a lot of faxes.” What made it work and caused other colleges to consult her when starting their own programs was employer support. “My supervisors were very careful to keep me involved and have me do a lot of teaching and training at meetings and conferences,” she says. Peppers also embraced teleworking because she had recently suffered an injury that left her partially disabled and teleworking allowed her to stay home and recuperate while still remaining a productive member of the staff.
For those aspiring to work from home, Sarah Sutton Fell has a warning. ” Be careful, because unfortunately there are so many scams out there particularly in the work from home job niche. I’m a tech savvy person with a lot of online job experience so I was prepared when I started working from home but others can be taken in.”
Pre-screening sites such as FlexJobs.com and Staffcentrix can help you separate the wheat from the chaff but only you can decide if a particular opportunity is for you. Still, for the disciplined and the diligent, the rewards can outweigh the risk.
“All-in-all, I’m so grateful for the ability to work remotely because it has allowed me to pursue a serious career with a serious salary and serious responsibility,” says Hemauer. “At times, I feel like I’m running my own business and that’s empowering!