Is telecommuting right for you?

Know the pros and cons before you choose an office with a backyard view

Have you just about had it with your two-hour commute? Need to spend more time with your family? Or maybe you want more control of those household chores that kill your weekend? If you answered yes to any of these questions, perhaps telecommuting is for you. Equipped with a fax machine, laptop computer and Internet access, home offices are fast becoming perfect substitutes for the high-rise corner office and view.

International Data Corp., a Framingham, Massachusetts-based market research firm, estimates that, in 1998, in 9.9 million households, at least one person worked at home for their employer three days a month during normal business hours. That number is up from 9.1 million households in 1997, and is expected to grow at an 8.8% rate annually over the next few years. IDC attributes the increase to advances in technology and companies’ continuing efforts to meet employee needs in a tight labor market.

Despite the advantages of skipping the commute and the “casual day” every day dress code, some employees still find drawbacks to telecommuting. “I work from my Manhattan apartment, and although I am better able to manage midday emergencies and errands, I frequently work 15-hour days, as work more easily creeps into my leisure time. There is no visual close to the business day,” says Bernard Bell, vice president of sales for ICTV, a Los Gatos, California-based high-speed Internet and e-mail provider. Bell, who has been a full-time telecommuter for just under a year, has mixed feelings about managing Atlanta- and Chicago-based employees in absentia. He misses motivating people face-to-face but maintains regular contact with his staff via daily e-mail and weekly conference calls.

As a participant in AT&T’s program to reduce office space, Terry Lee works from his New Jersey home four days a week. Lee, a data networks account executive, finds he misses the workplace camaraderie. “I can actually go months without seeing certain co-workers, so delegating responsibilities can prove challenging,” he says. “It’s much easier to be understood by colleagues through direct contact rather than e-mail. E-mail doesn’t always convey a real sense of urgency.”

Both Bell and Lee have weighed the pros and cons and decided that telecommuting works for them. However, human resource experts warn that telecommuting’s not for everyone.

Before considering working at home, make sure you have the self-discipline, organizational and time-management skills to be productive. Flexible Resources, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based staffing firm that helps organizations find professionals in finance, marketing and human resources who desire flexible work options, provides each potential telecommuter with the following guidelines for working at home:

  • Keep the boss happy — be productive and agree on performance
  • standards.
  • Communicate regularly with your boss and your co-workers.
  • Schedule and record your time.
  • Get organized and plan ahead.
  • Establish ground rules with your family.

“Good communication between the telecommuter and those in the office is essential for effectiveness,” explains Roy Young, director of Flexible Resources’ Los Angeles office. “We recommend that the home-based worker be very creative in communicating with bosses and colleagues. Lunch dates, regular phone calls and e-mail are key

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