Telecommuters count their blessings, one pair of sweats at a time

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As employers are lowering their defenses and expanding the opportunities to work at home, more cubicle-bound employees are clamoring for these alternative work arrangements.

The benefits to the employer are pretty obvious: With fewer employees in the home office, real estate and utility costs drop and recruitment of skilled workers is easier.

Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger wrote late last year that her telecommuting file has grown steadily over to years, and now it's a "3½-inch stack of missives from readers, all asking the same question: How can I get a good job working from home?"

She wrote that more companies, UnitedHealth Group, Safeco, Capgemini, IBM, American Express, and Sun Microsystems, for example, are hiring telecommuters from the get-go. The candidates are not required to work for the company for a few years first. Shellenbarger also notes, however, that the thousands of new work-from-home corporate jobs are "a speck on a vast U.S. labor-force landscape of 150 million workers."

According to the book Microtrends, however, about 4.2 million Americans work exclusively from their home (or the café or bookstore), which is nearly 100 percent more than in 1990, The New York Times reported. And the youngest people in the work force crave flexibility. Fortune magazine found that 61 percent of the youngest workers would leave their job if they could find another that allows telecommuting.

For those lucky enough to land one of these coveted arrangements, the "pros" seem to heavily outweigh the "cons." Consider the benefits:

  • A 30-second commute from bedroom to basement — Not only does telework save commuting time and fuel costs, but it benefits society in general by keeping cars off the roads while lessening air pollution.
  • Every day is casual Friday — Many telecommuters have two sets of clothes: their "dress" sweats and their "sloppy" sweats. Showers are optional.
  • No annoying co-workers stopping by your desk — What may be considered "team-building" to one person may just be idle chit-chat to another.
  • Flexibility — While good telecommuters know that they must be self-motivated, readily available by phone and e-mail, and responsive to customers and co-workers, most work arrangements are flexible enough so you can put your children on the bus or run an errand.

Tom Valerius, UnitedHealth vice president for recruitment services, told The Wall Street Journal that the company planned to hire about 2,000 telecommuters in 2007.

Candidates must convince employers that they're reliable, he said. "If you say, 'I want to be a telecommuter because I have kids at home,' or, 'I need to let my dog out,' it's not going to work."

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