Brendan Herron spends his days overseeing acquisitions for Pathlore Software Corp., a software developer. As vice president for strategic development, Herron works long hours, travels a lot and attends countless meetings.
But like a small but growing number of executives, Herron has never spent his time in a glass office at the company's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
When Herron first started at Pathlore, he lived in New York City with his wife and was not willing to move to Columbus. But he never really had to fight to stay put. Instead, the company realized what an asset it would be to have an employee in the bustling city. Herron's apartment was too small, so he worked from an office in Rockefeller Center. "It was beneficial for a Columbus-based company to have an executive in New York to talk to the financial community," Herron said. "We ended up with an investor in New York. That came out of the fact I was in New York and could take a cab" to meet with the potential client, rather than a plane ride, he said.
And when Herron and his wife decided D.C. living would suit them and their future children better, the company agreed. After all, it meant a presence in an area full of technology companies and potential government clients. Herron now teleworks from his house near Connecticut Avenue.
As employers fought to keep good talent in the late 1990s, many employees began to work from home or other places they found more comfortable or closer to home. Many of those workers convinced their employers that teleworking was just as good as driving into the office, and sometimes better. Typically, teleworkers have been the worker-bee types who spend some time at home and some time at the office and have to persuade the higher-ups to let them work that way.
But that is changing as top-level employees -- chief executives included -- are taking on teleworking. At Pathlore, four of the company's seven top executives work from home or from remote offices. Teleworking is considered an asset. If an executive or employee asks to work from home in San Francisco, that's just another market in which the company is available in person to potential clients.
"With technology and e-mail, people have no idea where you are," Herron said, parroting what teleworkers have said for years.
According to a study released this month by the International Telework Association & Council (ITAC), more companies are going the way of Pathlore. The number of people who performed any kind of work from home, from as little as one day a year to full time, grew from 41.3 million in 2003 to 44.4 million in 2004, a 7.5 percent increase.
Teleworkers who worked at home during business hours at least one day per month increased in the past year from 23.5 million to 24.1 million, a 2.6 percent increase.
Part of that growth is from employees who have been emboldened to ask to work from home or elsewhere.
"There are a lot of companies today that don't necessarily have formal telework programs in place . . . yet there are a lot of people doing it," said Tim Kane, who leads the virtual workplace practice at Deloitte Consulting LLP and is president of ITAC. He was speaking from an office in Pittsburgh, where, yes, he teleworks. He splits his time between a home office, an office a few minutes away in the city and the road. "You develop a customer account in a certain area, but you don't have an office there. Do you really want to go in and sign a five-year lease when you don't know what the situation is with the customer?"
A flexible workplace is turning out to be good for companies, not only because employees appreciate it, but also because executives value the ability to telework. They find it helps business in the long run if they allow employees to telework and if they themselves do it.
Bill Tait is chief executive of Mercantec Inc., a software company in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill. He lives in Wisconsin and spends at least two days guiding his company from home. "It allows everyone to start the week without me looking over shoulders. I'm sort of a workaholic, probably like a lot of CEOs who claim to have intense personalities. So both my family and staff like that I'm not around every day."
He does not feel separated from his company. For one thing, he typically travels a lot anyway. And for another, technology makes it so his clients and workers know that he is right there -- wherever "there" may be at that moment.
Tait's experience with teleworking helped him pass it on to his workers. When Tait found the perfect person to be executive director of Mercantec's strategic accounts, he hired him. Despite the fact that the employee lived -- and still lives -- in South Florida.
"Telework gives you the opportunity to have flexible staffing models and flexible location models," Kane said. "So if I am a Silicon Valley company and looking for someone with a particular talent, I don't need to find them in the greater Bay area. You can look for the best and talented person, period."
When that might start happening on a widespread basis is yet to be seen. But the growth of teleworking is apparent. It may be that a decade or so from now, much of the workforce will be teleworking from home, small offices or the local coffee shop -- in the area they want to live, not the area the company dictates.
"It's anticipated that by 2007, almost a third of the U.S. workforce will be working like this," Kane said. "People really want the ability to do this."
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