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Yes, people who work at home really do work . Just ask the growing number of happy bosses. : House Calls


Alison Holt Brummelkamp knew that switching from her daily office job to telecommuting two years ago was going to mean a huge change: She'd have to set up a home office, deal with co-workers and clients by phone, and juggle family and work all under one roof.

But Brummelkamp, a media specialist with Golin/Harris Communications Inc., found that she also had to deal with low-grade attitudes toward working from home that hadn't quite caught up with the high-tech age.

"New acquaintances or people at work I wasn't that close with would say, 'Oh, how nice, gee, you're working from home, isn't that great . . . ' " the implication being that she'd be sprawled on the sofa all day sipping a double latte and watching "Oprah."

Even Brummelkamp's mother thought that her daughter would have much more time on her hands.

"My mother's been very supportive, but I think she hoped that we'd be able to see each other more. She soon found out that I'm rarely available."

Despite telecommuting's growing popularity, some people are still stuck in the notion that if a suit is not donned and an office is not driven to, work does not get done. Those who work from home complain of intrusions from family, friends and neighbors who assume they're available to baby-sit/walk their dog/pick up their mail.

Telecommuting is hardly a brave-new-world notion. Working from home and dealing with the outside world via fax, phone and computers has been a reality for a while, long enough that companies have been instituting formal programs for the past few years.

In the United States, about 9.2 million telecommuters will not hit the roads by the end of this year, according to the research firm Link Resources. That's a 10% increase from last year.

The trend has also spawned other non-traditional working environments, including virtual offices (using portable equipment to set up shop from cars to construction sites) and satellite offices, mini-set-ups where employees can work.

AT&T set up its telecommuting program two years ago after experimenting with the concept. Of its 123,000 managers, 37,000 are now telecommuters, while another 12,000 are working out of virtual offices.

AT&T's decision to allow such a large percentage of its work force to telecommute came out of "a number of things coming together," said Susan Sears, district manager in public relations. "The company was looking at helping employees balance their work and personal lives. And telecommuting can also help with reducing the number of commuter trips into the office."

Overloaded freeways, less than adequate mass transit and epic natural disasters have all worked to make L.A. a trend-setter in telecommuting, said Jack Nilles, author of "Making Telecommuting Happen" (Van Nostran Reinhold, 1994).

Businesses must also comply with traffic reduction laws to meet clean-air standards. Since many ride-sharing and car-pooling programs have gone bust, telecommuting is an attractive alternative.

"I don't know any place else in the world that's concentrated on telecommuting efforts as much and as long as Los Angeles has," Nilles said.

Still, vestiges of old attitudes remain. When Brummelkamp set up her at-home office--an addition to her Temple City home that shares space with the washer-dryer--she had serious qualms.

"I was very sensitive about it. I didn't want people to know that I was home," she said. "I was worried that people would think I wouldn't be working as hard. But now everyone knows I work at home. I finally said you either do it or you don't do it, and you have to feel secure that it's acceptable."

Cathy Brower, executive editor of Home Office Computing magazine, said her readers are familiar with the negative connotations prompted by working from home.

"Some people can't help but envision a person sitting in their bathrobe watching television and occasionally making a phone call," she said. "It stems from a time when companies didn't have formalized work-at-home policies. That stigma is hard to shake. I do feel we've come along way, but I think we have a long way to go."

This transition from office to home is cyclical, explained Paul Edwards, who with wife Sarah is the author of "Working From Home" (Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc., 1990). America has gone from being a society of farmers and shopkeepers (whose businesses were often attached to their homes) to an industrial-revolutionized world of factories, offices, neckties and pantyhose--and now the pendulum is swinging again.

"In the 19th Century," he said, "Sunday schools were invented to teach people the skills to hold a job since it was believed that most people didn't have the discipline to show up on time. Now the belief is that most people aren't suited to [working from home]."

Even some employers have a tough time believing that their employees are hard at work if they can't see them.

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