Telework Seen as Important Perk, Especially for Women

Hurricanes, high gas prices, soaring office rents, stressful commutes. While telecommuting has been growing more popular in recent years, events of the last several weeks may prompt even more companies to jump on board.

Technology businesses pioneered flexible work arrangements in the 1990s. Service firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, followed. Now, wide use of mobile phones, broadband and wireless Internet access has made working out of the office even easier, and employees consider it an important benefit.

Working from home has long been attractive to mothers, who enjoy the flexibility, casual dress code, and a commute that involves merely walking from one room to another. Time that was once spent on the road can be spent with their children.

Kimberly Manigault, a tax manager at Prudential Financial, who has been working from her Somerset County, N.J. home two days a week for about five years, told the Star-Ledger that the gas savings are noticeable. Manigault drives about 70 miles round trip from Branchburg, where she lives with her 15-year-old daughter, to downtown Newark. Minus the long commute, “I am able to do more things for myself and my daughter with that extra time," she said. A number of her Prudential co-workers periodically work at home as well.

It's such an important perk, in fact, that Working Mother magazine, which annually ranks the 100 best companies, said that every company on the list offers a telecommuting option.

The magazine's editor, Carol Evans, told the Star-Ledger that rising gas prices will probably prompt more companies to allow teleworking. "It's a really inexpensive way for a company to give a highly desirable benefit," she said.

Some companies are slow to embrace telecommuting, not trusting employees to be productive, said Cathy Martine, senior vice president of Internet telephony at AT&T, the Washington Post reported.

However, AT&T tracked its employees' telework patterns for 10 years and concluded that teleworkers are more productive than those who work in an office. People who work from home are "less subject to distraction,” Martine said. “They feel more in control in terms of that interruption when people just pop into your office. That doesn't happen.”

Public accounting firms are offering the option as a way to help CPAs balance their professional and personal lives, and to keep top talent. At Deloitte & Touche, for example, full-time employees are often given the option to work at home for as much as half of the work week.

But telecommuting is not for everyone, warns Angela K. Blum, Director of Human Resource Consulting for Sax Macy Fromm & Co., PC, in Clifton, N.J. In an article for the New Jersey Society of CPAs, she said candidates for telecommuting should be those who are driven to produce, who can work independently and who have a track record of above-average performance.

She also said that organizations with successful telecommuting programs clearly communicate what is expected in terms of the quality and quantity of work, and communication keeps flowing - in both directions.

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