Area telecommuters note productivity, time savings and other benefits

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 107 views 

Mary Mann is one of a growing number of workers in the U.S. who finds telecommuting convenient, productive and beneficial in terms of saving time and money.

Mann is a public relations and marketing professional for Samaritan Community Center, a nonprofit assistance agency, in Rogers. She lives in Fayetteville. Her boss gave her permission to work from home on Friday mornings since the office in Rogers closes at noon. The upside is she only has to make the 30-mile commute on a congested Interstate 49, four days a week instead of five.

WalletHub, an online social network to help users make sound financial decisions, recently developed a Telework Saving Calculator, designed to calculate the savings from working at home. WalletHub estimates workers could annually save more than $900 billion and prevent 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by allowing more people to work from home.

A 2010 survey of 50,000 households by the U.S. Census Bureau found that the percentage of workers who worked at least one day a year at home increased from 7% in 1990 to 9.5% in 2010. Other findings from the survey include:
• Percentage of workers who work the majority of the week at home rose from 3.6% in 2005 to 4.3% in 2010;
• Home-based work in computer, engineering and science occupations rose by 69% between 2000 and 2010;
• The Boulder, Colo., metro area had the highest percentage of workers (10.9%) who worked a majority of time at home; and
• Almost half of home-based workers were self-employed.

But there are benefits other than savings and pollution reduction, said Curtis Feimster of Fayetteville and Robert Freeman of rural Fort Smith. Feimster makes sales calls worldwide from his Fayetteville home for a company in New York. He sells loyalty reward programs for mobile users. Feimster said he concentrates better at home, saves money by not flying to make calls on potential customers and still gets plenty of daily interaction with other people with phone calls and emails.

For Freeman, working from home means he spends more time with his family and he has time during the day to attend to the needs on the farm where he lives. He works as a cultural health care consultant for a Tennessee based health system.

Both men are quick to note benefits from their arrangements with employers but agree on the downside: Neither knows when to quit.

“I don’t know when to turn it off, because I don’t even know I’m working,” Feimster said. 

Many of Feimster’s prospective clients are in India, Israel, Denmark and Canada or other countries in different time zones. That lends itself to working all hours.

Freeman said he converted his dining room to a home office, complete with French doors he closes at the end of his workday. The closed doors are a reminder that his office is closed for the evening.

On the employer side, even the country’s largest employer, weighed in on telecommuting. Wal-Mart Stores, with 1.2 million workers, said it uses an informal, flexible work arrangement at times for positions within its corporate ranks. There are times when a manager can allow flexible work arrangements for an employee whether that is working remote on occasion or opting for flexible hours, said Wal-Mart corporate spokesman Randy Hargrove.

"It's not a one-size fits all with our home office teams," Hargrove said.

Chip Souza, sports editor at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, has for the previous seven years supervised a staff of six sports writers who all work outside the office. The days when his employees spent their time in the office are gone, with the advent of laptop computers, cell phones and Hotspots – which allow the writers Internet access wherever they are.

“It’s a different world than 15 years ago,” Souza said. (Souza also is the husband of Kim Souza, who works for The City Wire from her home.)

He stays in contact with his staff by telephone and weekly staff meetings (in the office) when the group sets the budget and plans for the upcoming two weeks. For Souza, the downside is missing out on the one on one time with his staff or getting instant feedback on a story from a reporter sitting next to you. 

Kelly Services, a worldwide temporary employment agency, has a contract for hiring workers for Kraft Foods, including the Planter’s Peanuts in Fort Smith.  The recruiter for Planter’s lives near St. Joseph, Mo., said Scott Loveday, Kelly’s district manager in Fort Smith.

“In the role of the recruiter, you can get the same information by phone that you can get on an application. And, there are a lot of different ways to get face time with the applicant,” he said. “It works out well for us.”

Global Workplace Analytics reports that telework began to grow in 2006 when the number of people working from home grew 26.2%. The pace has slowed, with the number of people working from home growing just 3.8% in 2012, the most recent year the company reports data.

One of the common reasons companies do not allow telework is trust. According to Global Workplace, 75% of managers say they trust their employees, but a third of those surveyed want the employees to be productive in a managed worksite.

Also, some employees may want to telecommute, but fear it will hamper their career rise with the company. Companies that allow telework must have clear rules and expectations in place. Also, telework should not be a solution for childcare needs, according to Global Workplace.

“Home-based employees need to understand that telecommuting is not a suitable replacement for daycare unless they can schedule work hours around their children’s needs,” the analytics company noted.