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Telecommuting Trendiest of Trend

August 01, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Telecommuting" is the fastest growing segment of the work-at-home trend, reports Link Resources, a research and consulting firm. Experts say telecommuting represents the best of both worlds--the comforts of home and time with family combined with a full salary and benefits.

A combination of factors are driving more companies to draft formal telecommuting guidelines.

"Concerns about traffic congestion, regional clean air mandates, reduced computer and fax machine costs and personal work-style preferences all play a part," said Gil Gordon, editor of the New Jersey-based Telecommuting Review newsletter. "A large factor is the growing popularity of portable products. Both notebook PC and cellular phone usage have skyrocketed among telecommuters."

Los Angeles is among the most popular areas for the nation's 7 million telecommuters, according to surveys conducted by Home Office Computing magazine. Since Pacific Bell launched its telecommute program during the 1984 Olympics to cut traffic, for example, the program has grown to 1,000 employees who work at home at least one day a week.

Your best chance for landing or transferring to a telecommute position lies in large companies with more than 1,000 employees or those with fewer than 10, according to surveys. The most popular telecommute position is no longer the stereotypical data-entry worker. Increasing numbers of lawyers, editors, accountants, writers, researchers, computer programmers and stockbrokers work part time from their homes.

When trying to sell a manager on telecommuting, demonstrate your ability to work independently. "One of the fears managers have is loss of productivity at home," said Cheryl Mahaffey, who began telecommuting from her Playa del Rey home 10 years ago after her company moved from Los Angeles to Glendale, stretching her 30-minute commute to an hour or more.

"Office politics, socializing, the noise and other distractions sap your time and energy," she said. "When I go into the office now, I'm just not as efficient." Most surveys indicate that telecommuters achieve a 20% increase in productivity.

You may need several years of proven performance at your job before a telecommute arrangement is possible. Mahaffey worked for Psychological Services Inc., a human resources consultant firm, for 10 years before becoming a telecommuter.

"A track record, and more importantly, a good working relationship with a network of office workers really helps," said Mahaffey, who telecommutes full time. "You need to prove to your boss that you can maintain that network just as easily from home."

If your boss shows interest in telecommuting, draft a proposal of how the switch in position could be accomplished. "Don't just show how your job would change, but show how other job descriptions might also be affected," Gordon said.

A proposal could also demonstrate how loopholes in the office structure, such as duties that fall through cracks, could be closed with telecommuting. For example, a firm's office hours could be extended by a telecommuter who can better serve international customers in far-flung time zones.

A proposal should mention how you will maintain frequent communication with the main office--via telephone, electronic mail or fax. If you already own such equipment, it should boost your chances. Don't bet on many companies supplying such equipment, say experts. Proposals should also include a schedule of daily or weekly progress reports and reviews. In any proposed budget, include costs of overnight mail packages, phone bills and other such items.

Finally, propose a telecommute arrangement for just one or two days a week to start. Once employers observe how productive and pleasant a telecommuter you can be, chances are they'll increase the number of days.

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