The best opportunities for telecommuters – includes list of companies
Would You Like to Work from Home? Here’s a List of the Companies with the Most Telecommuters and the Jobs Best Suited for Remote Work.
Three million people now “telecommute” to company jobs from their homes an average two to four days a week, and studies show that millions more want to join them. Telecommuting can be a win-win proposition for you and your company. You gain flexibility and freedom, and reduce stress. Your company keeps a valuable employee who is happier and more productive than ever.
In very few companies will a manager tap you on the shoulder and transform you into a telecommuter. In most cases, you’ll have to take the initiative and present a compelling argument on your own behalf. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the climate is improving, especially in small and large companies, which are more likely to be fully computerized and where managers are more likely to manage by results than by walking the shop floor. And in many companies, managers themselves are considered the best telecommuters.
In all, the widespread use of computers at all levels of business and the increasing use of computers to send information and mail between remote offices and headquarters point to a steady upward trend for telecommuting programs.
FORMAL AND INFORMAL TELECOMMUTING
There are two types of telecommuting–formal and informal. Formal telecommuting is sanctioned by top management and the personnel department. While formal telecommuting programs get a lot of publicity, fewer than 50 major companies have formal plans, and they account for only a fraction of all telecommuters, says consultant Jack Nilles, who coined the term telecommuting in the early 1970s. Most telecommuting is done informally by people who work out private arrangements with their bosses. Others at the company may not even know about it. Such “guerrilla” telecommuting is widespread and growing by 20 to 30 percent per year.
Formal telecommuting programs are most prevalent on the West Coast, but informal telecommuting is nationwide. It doesn’t take a California mind-set to appreciate telecommuting’s benefits. It just takes good business sense and openmindedness.
TALKING TO YOUR BOSS
In most cases, it makes much more sense to approach the company you now work for rather than look for work as a telecommuter at a new company. (Most companies with formal telecommuting plans allow only current employees to work this way, although there are exceptions.) Present a case that highlights the benefits for your company, not merely the benefits for yourself. Stress increased productivity, since telecommuters are on average 20 percent more productive than office workers. Other corporate benefits depend on your company’s climate. Does your company have trouble recruiting people? Is morale low? Is office space scarce?
How will your boos react when you suggest telecommuting? Most likely, he or she will at least hear you out. The benefits–increased productivity, savings in worker amenities, improved employee recruiting and retention–are too tempting to dismiss out of hand. And now, with the federal government embracing telecommuting, companies no longer have to feel like path-finders when they consider it. They are just being smart.
TELECOMMUTING’S TOP JOBS
The top 10 jobs for telecommuters, listed below, were selectively chosen. These jobs show up again and again in surveys of telecommuters. These jobs are suitable for telecommuting because they don’t require much face-to-face interaction; computers and/or telephones are key tools; performance is easily measured; and work doesn’t often require access to materials at the central work site. Finally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates high growth potential for these jobs, meaning that they will be harder to fill in the future, making it more likely that telecommuting will be a sign-up incentive.
There are probably hundreds of other corporate jobs that you can perform from home. Most white-collar jobs involve three steps: preparation, production, and presentation. Consider an architect’s job. The architect begins by interviewing the client. Next comes the production stage, in which the blueprints are created. Finally, the architect presents the blueprints to the client. It’s the middle stage–production–that often can be done from home.
Scores of companies employ programmers who telecommute. The job often calls for the peace and quiet that a home office offers. When programmers need to tap into their companies’ computers, there is no reason they can’t do so remotely. The ability to access these resources at night, when demand is low, also adds the benefit of quick response time.
Many translators work by computer and modem. Translators usually must work quickly, and there is no faster way to transmit information to a client than by modem. Some companies, such as Berlitz, actually insist that their translators have computer setups. “Anybody who’s serious about being a translator will have a microcomputer and modem,” says Berlitz sales manager David Laube.
Engineers of all types, but especially software engineers, make excellent candidates for telecommuting. Like programmers, software engineers often work alone. Hughes Aircraft, for example, recognizes that programmers and engineers need an atmosphere conductive to creativity. So it gives these professionals a free hand in deciding when they will work at home.
4. Sales Representative
Sales reps have a long history of working from home. Now, with personal computers, modems, and fax machines so widely available, there’s less incentive than ever for a sales rep to make the trip into company headquarters. Because a sales rep’s output is easily measured, managers don’t have to worry about managing from afar. A drop in productivity is quickly apparent.
5. Computer Systems Analyst
Systems analysts help companies to computerize. They begin with site visits; from there they design the system using mathematical models and cost accounting. It is this lengthy design phase that’s easily performed at home. Deadlines that call for evening and weekend work and the likelihood that systems analysts already have the equipment they need to work from home also make this a job good for telecommuters.
6. News Reporter
In the early 1980s, reporters popularized laptop computers, with which they filed stories from the field. Many still work that way. They gather information either face-to-face or over the phone. Then they write their stories from home or from the field.
7. Public-Relations Professional
Public-relations professionals spend a lot of time gathering information, which is why they are among the heaviest users of on-line databases. Companies such as San Francisco’s Hi-Tech Public Relations now find that there’s no reason why some of their account managers cannot work from home. In fact, when trying to pitch its expertise in technical areas to new clients, Hi-Tech may find that having telecommuters is good PR.
8. Technical Writer
Technical writers, likely many other writers, use computers to do their jobs. Throw in some documentation and a phone so they can pick the brains of technical experts, and technical writers have everything they need to work–from anywhere. Many computer companies hire technical writers.
Stockbrokers no longer have to work from brokerage houses to monitor stocks. On-line services from Telerate, Quotron, and Dow Jones bring the stock market into a stockbroker’s home. Also, new FM-sideband services continuously broadcast stock quotes straight to computers–often in background mode. Since brokerage firms are generally located in big cities where commuting can be difficult, telecommuting is especially attractive to stockbrokers.
10. Data-Entry Clerk
In the 1970s, data-entry clerks were among the first employees to telecommute. The Cottage Keyer program at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina, operating since 1978 and open only to current employees, is one of telecommuting’s true success stories. The error rate for the at-home keyers is near zero, compared with a 2 percent rate for the office keyers. The Cottage Keyers also produce more. Since production directly affects their pay, they earn more, too.
If you want to try telecommuting, you should switch gradually. For example, one day when you have a pressing deadline, ask to work at home, where you can give the project the thought and concentration it demands. Once you’ve proved it’s working well for you and your employer, move to increase that time.
But there will be a learning curve for both you and your employer. During that time you should show up at the office fairly often. Remember that most employers are not yet used to telecommuting employees, and you’ll have to reassure your boss that you’re working productively.
The companies below were chosen and ranked based on the number of current telecommuters and the prospects for telecommuting there in the future. In fact, the number of telecommuters increases every year at virtually all of these companies.
550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022; (213) 239-7166 (in Los Angeles)
Number of Telecommuters: 260 formally; “thousands” informally
Positions: Sales rep; project manager; public-relations manager; telemarketing rep; attorney
It’s no surprise that AT&T, the country’s leading telephone company, is also one of the top boosters of telecommuting. AT&T Los Angeles headquarters pioneered telecommuting for the entire corporation. It worked out so well there that AT&T unveiled programs in Phoenix and at its Bell Labs facility in New Jersey.
Many AT&T telecommuters are computer salespeople who find the quiet environment of a home office handy for drafting proposals, compiling bids, and managing accounts. Others who telecommute include project managers, who oversee the installation of big telephone systems; lawyers; and public-relations people.
2. Pacific Bell
140 New Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94105; (415) 542-9000
Number of Telecommuters: 1,500
Positions: Engineer; programmer; analyst; forecaster; marketing planner
PacBell’s telecommuting program is one of the country’s largest and best publicized. Its telecommuting program started in 1984, when the Olympic Organizing Committee asked local businesses to help reroute traffic. Telecommuting is now so commonplace here that no one even bothers to formally track it. Past surveys found that 96 percent of PacBell telecommuters were satisfied with it.
Two things stand out about this program. First, only managers can telecommute. Pacific Bell believes managers make the best telecommuters since they are already accustomed to managing their own time, something all telecommuters must do. PacBell is also one of the few companies with satellite offices for telecommuters. Some of its Los Angeles employees commute to a satellite office in Woodland Hills rather than make the daily trek downtown.
3. California State Department of General Services
601 Sequoia Pacific Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95814; (916) 324-1739
Number of Telecommuters: 150 formally; many more informally
Positions: Attorney; clerical workers; actuary; transcriber
California’s formal pilot program ended in January, although telecommuting continues in full force. Managers and other employees from more than 15 state agencies now telecommute, including 30 attorneys with the Attorney General’s office in Los Angeles. The next step is for the state legislature to formally recognize telecommuting as a work option for all state-government employees.
4. Apple Computer, Inc.
20525 Mariani Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014; (408) 996-1010
Number of Telecommuters: 480 to 600
Positions: Technical writers; strategic planners
Apple makes it easy for its employees to work from home. After a year on the job, all employees get a free Macintosh computer of their choice. All employees are connected to the company’s AppleLink worldwide electronic network so they can instantly communicate with other Apple employees across the hallway or around the world. Apple’s telecommuters are typically involved in long-range projects, such as writing computer manuals or doing strategic planning.
5. County of Los Angeles
222 N. Grand, Room 585, Los Angeles, CA 90012; (213) 974-2631
Number of Telecommuters: 500
Positions: Probation officer; welfare analyst; planner; typist; management analyst
Los Angeles County employs more than 80,000 people and has an annual budget of $10 billion. After one year, its formal telecommuting project has grown quickly and embraces a wide variety of workers. The county expects several thousand of its workers to eventually telecommute. “We know that telecommuting works,” says project manager Margery Gould.
The county looked to telecommuting to address two concerns. First, office space was so scarce that it had no place to put new workers. Second, the area’s South Coast Air Quality Management District mandated that local employers devise ways to reduce employee commuting to cut smog and traffic problems.
6. General Electric Plastics
214 7th St., Suite 401, Parkersburg, WV 26102; (304) 424-5411
Number of Telecommuters: 300 to 400
Positions: Salesperson; administrative assistant; programmer; analyst, manager
This division of General Electric is a leading manufacturer of chemicals and plastics products. The company employs a lot of technical people, including engineers and programmers. Increasingly, it finds that applicants right out of college ask to telecommute. Since they probably had computers in their dorm rooms, they are used to working from home. “If their job is appropriate for it and their manager agrees to it, we let these employees telecommute part-time,” says PC Coordinator Dennis Conley.
7. The Federal Government
Office of Personnel Management, 1900 E St., OPRD Room 6462, Washington, DC 20415; (202) 606-2130
Number of Telecommuters: 1,000 expected by 1991
Positions: All classes
Like other employers, the government is having trouble recruiting and retaining employees. To better compete, Uncle Sam may soon offer telecommuting as a work option to its three million employees. It is now testing the waters, through a pilot program involving employees from nearly every federal agency, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture Department, Treasury Department, and the Interior Department. “All classes of workers are eligible, as long as their jobs are portable,” says Wendall Joice of the Office of Personnel Management.
8. US West, Inc.
7800 East Orchard Rd., Englewood, CO 80111; (303) 978-6260
Number of Telecommuters: 200
Positions: Staff manager; computer-systems analyst; programmer; records assistant
Like many companies, US West was very pragmatic when it evaluated telecommuting. The company asked, “What’s in it for us?” US West concluded that telecommuting would save dollars, and it has not looked back since. Telecommuters and their managers go through an extensive training program where they discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly about telecommuting.
Besides telecommuting, US West offers flextime; Compressed workweeks; and excused time, which allows workers to take time off (without pay). It is also one of the few companies that offer job sharing, in which two employees share one job. It’s no wonder that Working Mother magazine named US West one of the nation’s top companies for working mothers.
9. Travelers Corporation
One Tower Square, Hartford, CT 06183; (203) 277-0111
Number of Telecommuters: 200
Positions: Researcher; claims processor; manager; programmer
Travelers began its formal telecommuting program in 1986 in response to difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees. The program began in the data-processing department and has since expanded to include workers in the employee-benefits department and other parts of the company.
Telecommuters here are employees with a track record. Travelers treats its telecommuters quite well, setting them up with IBM PC AT or Personal System/2 computers and tying them into the company’s voice-mail and electronic-mail system.
100 N. Corporate Dr., Brookfield, WI 53005; (414) 792-5525
Number of Telecommuters: 200
Positions: Customer-service representative
The next time you order from a JCPenney catalog, consider that the person taking you order may be sitting at home. The giant retailer has 16 telemarketing centers throughout the country; 8 have telecommuters. JCPenney has found that telecommuting has helped it solve a key problem in the telemarketing business: turnover.
BRAD SCHEPP is the author of The Telecommuter’s Handbook: How to Work for a Salary Without Ever Leaving the House (Pharos Books, 1990). An associate editor with a McGraw-Hill company, he can be reached on CompuServe (71150,2507) or MCI Mail (BSchepp).
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