With gas prices
at record highs, and with traffic and roadway congestion contributing to longer times moving between home and the office, more and more are considering whether their jobs will allow them to telecommute, or work from a remote location like home. Many employers report requests from employees to telecommute have jumped sharply in recent months.
Between 5 and 18% of Americans currently telecommute, depending on which set of statistics you read. Some work exclusively from home, while others spend just one or one part of a day laboring remotely. More than a few companies offer this option to workers who are on maternity or a protracted medical or personal leave to those willing to continue their jobs at least part time.
However, there is still a fair amount of resistance toward the notion of telecommuting, especially on the part of corporate America. Some bosses argue that they worry employee production will drop; for this reason and others, they may restrict telecommuting only to top tier jobs. Long-time telecommuters are quick to refute claims they work less hard; many report they are much more apt to work longer hours, usually with no accompanying compensation for that extra time.
“It’s a real trade off,” says Mary Barton, a Yonkers, NY telecommuter for a large financial services firm. “I definitely worked less hours when I went into the office. Although I save an hour’s commute each way, I probably work for free about three hours a day on average. Plus my supervisor likes to check up on me like calling at lunch time to make sure I’m at my desk before she goes off on her hour long break. She does the same late in the afternoon.”
“Those at the office assume you’re living it up at home,” agrees Laura Gomez, who is able to perform her job as a customer service rep from her home in suburban Los Angeles.
“When you telecommute, you have to communicate much better than the average person because it’s the only thing that reminds the main office you’re out there working your butt off. At another place I worked where I also telecommuted, I was passed over for raises and promotions. Now I was doing a great job so I have to think the fact I wasn’t in the office everyday had an effect. My boss there so much as said he didn’t think I deserved as many perks since I got to stay at home,” she adds.
Jay Donner, a staff recruiter who has worked with hundreds of firms and businesses, believes some companies do themselves a disservice when they deny telecommuting options for those jobs that can be done remotely. He says he routinely sees businesses where they don’t have the room for everyone working there yet don’t want to expand space. Such workplaces would do better to have some positions moved off-site, like having some workers use the Internet to connect from home, the recruiter feels.
“Other firms are willing to bring on contract workers to telecommute which is okay, except that many of them don’t extend that policy to their own employees. The corporate reasoning is they don’t have to pay an independent contractor’s medical or other benefits, so there is less expense and risk involved,” reports Donner.
Are you ready to telecommute? While sometimes all it takes is a work-compatible computer, the right software, and a high-speed connection to the Internet, there may be more you need. This can include one or more extra phone lines, a fax machine, a scanner and/or copier, good quality printer (a laser printer is required for professional grade output), and electronics protection devices like a good uninterruptible power supply that saves the PC in the event of a power failure.
Special insurance may be required as well, and some communities have specific laws about what can be done from home. If you live in a rural area without high-speed Internet, you may have to obtain a workaround, like a satellite-based connection, available from companies like EchoStar. Dialup Internet accounts just aren’t fast enough to trade large files back and forth.
Who pays for the home office setup usually depends. Most companies provide a basic setup and will cover the cost of the Internet connection and phone line(s). You should check out all the details carefully before hand. While you can deduct some job-unpaid business expenses on your taxes, you need to know your monthly expenses up front.
You also need to consider how much of your current position can be done from home. Few nurses, for example, can tend to patients at the hospital from home. If you’re a team or department leader, you normally need to spend at least the majority of your time in the office. Some jobs might allow you to work from home at least one day per week.
To work more from home, you may have to think about a job change. If another job you are qualified for within the same company might be a better match for remote operation, going after that job may be your best choice since few companies allow telecommuting for brand new hires.
If there are currently no telecommuting jobs at your current company, consider talking to your boss. Go in prepared to answer exactly how you can do the same job – or an even better one – if you don’t have to trek into the office every day. Be ready to explain how your plan can work and how you can separate yourself from other distractions around your home (and remind him or her that work provides its own non-productive distractions). You may want to suggest a trial period, in which you work at least part-time from the central office.