How Telecommuting Works

Telecommuting, which is growing in popularity, allows employees to avoid long commutes.
Telecommuting, which is growing in popularity, allows employees to avoid long commutes.
© Photographer: Michael Pettigrew | Agency: Dreamstime

"Brring," the alarm startles you out of a deep sleep. It's 8 a.m. on Monday morning. Time to head to the office. You roll out of bed, brush your teeth and stumble your way to the  kitchen to grab some coffee.

Moments later, you head to the office, still wearing your pajamas and fluffy slippers. Luckily for you, you don't have far to go -- you work at home. Telecommuting, or working at home, has grown in popularity over the last 20 years.

On an increasing basis, workers are saying "no" to long commutes and opting to work at home. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of employees working from home grew by 23 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Telecommuting workers revel in making their own schedule -- allowing them to schedule work around family and personal commitments. With the ready availability of technology tools, like the Internet and home computers, companies are more willing to let employees work from home.

How has technology aided in the surge of home workers? How do you convince your boss to let you work from home? And, besides decreasing commute times, what are some of the other benefits of commuting? Check out the next page to find out.

Using Technology to Telecommute

With today's communication technology, telecommuting is easier than ever.
With today's communication technology, telecommuting is easier than ever.
© ­Photographer: David Phillips | Agency: Dreamstime

Without technology, especially Internet-based technology, telecommuting, at least as it's known today, would be impossible.

But the move toward home-based workers was well underway before the Internet explosion. According to Robert Moskowitz, president of the American Telecommuting Association, the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake provided an impetus for thousands to work at home. As quoted in an August 2006 article in Boston Business Journal, Moskowitz said the quake prompted companies to quickly implement telecommuting programs as a necessity. Telecommuting, therefore, grew steadily before the Internet or other considerations came along, he said.

Before the Internet boom, telecommuters relied heavily on simple landline telephones to communicate with the office, and fax machines and delivery services to share information or work.

There's no doubt the Internet has taken telecommuting to an even more practical realm. The American Telecommuting Association says personal computers are common among those who work from home. Companies often allow their workers whose primary duties involve computer work to telecommute before others. A computer -- desktop or laptop -- is probably the most basic telecommuting technology. Everything else is tied to it.

A computer by itself, however, is of little use to the telecommuter. To be used, it must have the means of communicating with other computers, especially those in the home office. This can be done through basic Internet software and e-mail. In some cases, a company may prefer to connect a telecommuter's computer directly into its network. A basic security password enabled from a Web page often will do this trick. Other online services, such as GoToMyPC, allow a worker to tap into his office computer from any remote location, taking the telecommuting experience mobile. In most cases, a high-speed Internet connection is a must.

Software needs will vary with your duties, but it's a safe bet you'll need basic word processing, spreadsheet and database software. Graphics software, such as photo and drawing programs, can be essential to workers whose jobs involve working with images. Also, it's highly likely you'll need Web conferencing software, which'll allow you to participate in company meetings online. Reliable Internet and e-mail software is also a must, as is high quality security/anti-virus software.

Many employers have standardized computing requirements for their employees who work at home. Vanderbilt University, for instance, outlines both standard desktop and a "graphics intensive" package for its telecommuting employees. The standards spell out both minimum and optimal system requirements in hardware, software and connectivity. You'll need to check with your employer or clients to ensure your computer technology is both compatible and high enough quality.

Other technology you may want to invest in includes a fax machine with a dedicated phone line (if you use it a lot), a cell phone/smartphone, pager and printer/copier. If you do a lot of work with graphics, it may pay to invest in a high-quality scanner. Your computer should come equipped with a CD/DVD burner, to help you archive important work. You may also need a wireless router if you like to tote your laptop around the house to work.

Why are employees who work at home happier? Find out why on the next page.

Benefits of Telecommuting

Home-based workers can often arrange their work schedule so they can work when they're most productive, resulting in happier employees.
Home-based workers can often arrange their work schedule so they can work when they're most productive, resulting in happier employees.
© Photographer: Doreen Salcher | Agency: Dreamstime

Employers report happier, more productive employees. The American Telecommuting Association reported employee productivity rising by 10 to 15 percent while workathomesuccess cited reduced absenteeism and decreased burn out among employers.

Companies with telecommuting options can sometimes reduce overhead and real estate costs, given they have fewer employees to house. Fewer employees can mean reduced office stress and reduced stress on the resources there.

Workers like the option of working from home. The Wall Street Journal reported that a 2007 survey by Kenexa Corp., a recruiting firm, revealed 70 percent of workers took pride in working from home. The poll, which surveyed about 10,000 U.S. workers, also showed 73 percent of telecommuters were satisfied with their company, as contrasted by 64 percent of commuters. Some business leaders say this stems from the implicit trust employers show to their employees by allowing them to do their jobs without close or direct supervision.

Another major benefit telecommuting brings to employers and companies is the ability to keep a business functioning during or after a crisis such as a fire in the home office or major natural disaster. In the event the home office is without power or destroyed, telecommuting employees dispersed at remote locations can offer service continuity.

Now let's take a look at how much it costs a worker to actually go to work, instead of telecommuting to work.

First, the worker has to own a suitable business wardrobe. Even though telecommuters often must meet these same requirements, they sometimes don't dress in business attire for days at a time. This means, at a minimum, telecommuters have to own fewer business-style outfits.

Next is the commute. If the worker drives to work, you can include gasoline, car maintenance and depreciation. Sometimes road tolls are a part of the daily commute, as is parking and added insurance.

Many working couples also face the challenge of finding good affordable daycare for young children who must be looked after while they're away at work.

Commuting workers often find it difficult to eat breakfast at home or pack a lunch. Long work days can make it difficult to prepare an evening meal. It's easy to see how those who commute to work spend extra money eating out up to three meals a day.

In some cases, such as a worker who is transferred to another division within their company, telecommuting will allow a worker to keep a job without relocating.

Some even argue that telecommuting is a more environmentally friendly, or "greener" approach, to work. A 2007 study commissioned by the Consumer Electronics Association revealed a telecommuter used almost 850 gallons of gasoline less each year. The study also claimed that telecommuting saves enough energy to power 1 million households in the United States for an entire year [source: TechJournal South].

How do you convince your employer to let you work from home? Check out the next page for tips on telecommuting.

Telecommuting Tips

Workers who telecommute find themselves juggling between home and work commitments.
Workers who telecommute find themselves juggling between home and work commitments.
© Photographer: Monika Adamczyk | Agency: Dreamstime

If telecommuting seems like a fit for you there are certain things you can do to make working at home work for you.

First, if your company doesn't offer a telecommuting option, you might be able to convince it to try one by writing a formal proposal. The proposal should include a list of companies that offer their workers a telecommuting option. Listing those companies that also operate in your business sector can show it applies. The proposal also can include information from organizations such as the International Telework Association and Council and American Telecommuting Association. Finally, you can list the productivity improvements and projected cost savings to the company that telecommuting can provide to the company's bottom line.

Second, be flexible. Some companies might be hesitant to allow workers to spend 100 percent of their time away from the office. Expect them to require you to come in sometimes. Some companies might require this at least once a week or a couple times per month. Others might want you in as needed. Others also might require you to live within a certain distance of an office.

Coming into the office, at least sometimes, is usually a good thing anyway. A 2007 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed working alongside others has a positive effect on workers by maintaining a sense of teamwork and cohesion [source: Hartford Business].

Even though you're staying home to work, you should still stick to a routine. Doing so helps you maintain the mindset of going to work. Start and stop work at the same times as you normally would and take breaks accordingly. Telecommuting has the potential for both improving and worsening your performance. Discipline is essential.

Also, keep a log of what you accomplish working at home. It may come in handy if your company becomes skeptical of your productivity as a telecommuter. Send your boss progress reports and make it easy for him or her to find you and communicate. Call in, send e-mails or text messages. Let them know you're engaged and on the job.

At the same time, don't fall into the trap of feeling like you have to work constantly because you work at home. Set work hours and stick to them.

Finally, beware of Internet scams offering a chance to work at home. While there are certainly legitimate offers of this variety, a few warning signs to watch for include those that ask you to pay up front, are hosted on a free site or you have difficulty in determining the nature of the work from solicitation.

Writer, data manager or accountant -- which careers allow you to work from home? Find out on the next page.

Common Telecommuting Jobs

There are a variety of jobs, primarily computer-based, that workers can do from home.
There are a variety of jobs, primarily computer-based, that workers can do from home.
© Photographer: Olga Lyubkina | Agency: Dreamstime

With today's available communication technology such as e-mail, Web conferencing and cell phones, there's a wide variety of telecommuting jobs you can do from home. And the companies offering telecommuting jobs might surprise you.

Jobs such as data processing and management, information technology, telecommunications companies, insurance companies and travel agencies often offer telecommuting options to their employees. Even professions such as accounting, banking, engineering and law participate. Retail companies and even some manufacturers also offer work at home options. Another sector supports self-employed freelancers who work via the Internet on contract to employers.

In general, telecommuting jobs are those that use technology to allow the worker to remain part of the team. With a little imagination, this can apply to large number of jobs in many different fields in a wide cross-section of sectors.

Office jobs especially lend themselves to telecommuting. That's because most deal with handling, processing and managing information and are heavily computer-based. Office jobs involve writing, thinking, telephone work, reading, communication and decision-making. All these functions can easily be handled from home, given the right equipment and mindset on the part of the worker.

Common jobs for home-based workers include telemarketing, telecommunications management and sales, insurance adjusting and sales, and travel agency functions. Accountants and health care managers also can telecommute, as can bank workers and data information processors. Many office-based government and municipal jobs can work as telecommuting jobs, along with marketing research, software writing and various types of engineering.

Freelancers such as writers, photographers, graphic designers and marketing professionals can telecommute in the same way as those who work for another company. They communicate with clients via the Internet and use it as a conduit through which to send their work and receive assignments.

Telecommuting shows no signs of slowing down. More companies, governments and individuals are finding new ways to exploit this alternative way of doing business, which is becoming the norm in many ways but also can play a major role in keeping businesses operational under extraordinary or emergency conditions.

For lots more information on telecommuting and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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