"Work from home" fantasy: the reality that works

Sunday, February 27, 2011; 9:00 AM

If you have the drive and discipline to work successfully from home, you have more opportunities to do so than ever before, even in today's employment climate. More and more employers are providing telework opportunities as a matter of enlightened self-interest. Telework jobs expand organizations' talent pools while maximizing limited overhead resources and improving employee satisfaction, as well as reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

According to Commuter Connections' 2010 State of the Commute Survey, a quarter of regional commuters now telework at least occasionally. This is more than twice the percentage who worked from home in 2001. More than half of area workers now say their employer has either a formal or informal telework option.

So how do you find these coveted telework jobs? The federal government is a good place to start. "All federal agencies have telework programs," Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, a non-profit that promotes successful telework practices, explained. "For recruitment purposes, most agencies will tag their telework-friendly jobs, so just go to usajobs.gov and type in 'telework' or 'telecommute,'" she recommended.

Auten named the Patent and Trademark Office, the Defense Information Agency and the General Services Administration as the agencies with the most robust telework programs. She reported that Discovery Communications, Booz Allen Hamilton and Marriott International have some of the area's top private sector telecommuting programs. Be aware that employers will often require on-site work before transitioning employees to work-from-home situations.

Ellen Duncan, vice president of human resources for a Gaithersburg biotech firm, spent many years recruiting employees for federal jobs, government contractors and other private sector firms, including many teleworkers. "Look at any entity that needs to hire a lot of people quickly. They often don't have the office space and infrastructure to accommodate on-site staff," she suggested. To do this, try following the federal money trail. You can visit the Federal Procurement Data System--Next Generation at fpds.gov to research recently awarded contracts.

But it is not only the large employers for whom teleworkers make sense. Duncan noted that entrepreneurs and home-based businesses often prefer home-based workers as well. "The owner's office is often wherever their phone and laptop is, so they just need you to be available by phone and internet," she observed. Thus, a growing field these days is that of "virtual assistant," a job Duncan recommended "if you're particularly organized and tolerant."

Companies in which the workload increases significantly on a cyclical basis often use teleworkers because the employers do not want to invest in office space they only need some of the time, Duncan added. Examples include companies with end-of-pay-period processing deadlines and monthly inventory checks.

Duncan offered these tips on proposing telework in your current job or a prospective job: "The successful plan starts with an idea that is well thought out and with a variety of contingencies addressed. Suggest a test period in which the employer and employee both have the right to say 'no' if it's not working out." Be sure to present your plan as one that benefits the company rather than one based on personal considerations.

Auten and Duncan both cautioned job seekers to beware of job scams that target people who want to work from home. Legitimate employers never charge money to hire you or get you started.

This special advertising section was written by Laura K. Nickle and Suzanne Gunther of Communi-k, Inc., in conjunction with The Washington Post Custom Content Department. The production of this supplement did not involve The Washington Post news or editorial staff.

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