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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 6, 2007

Teleworking up 65% in 2 years

By Julie Moran Alterio
Westchester(N.Y.) Journal News

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chris Arnold, a marketing manager for IBM Corp., has been working from her Brewster, N.Y., home since after her last maternity leave in 2000. One in five IBM employees in the U.S. is a teleworker.

STUART BAYER | Journal News (Westchester, N.Y.)

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When Chris Arnold's two children come home from school, she's waiting at the bus stop. In summer, she's there after their morning swim lessons. When they play outside in the afternoon, she keeps a watchful eye.

But Arnold isn't a stay-at-home mom she's a work-from-home mom.

A marketing manager for IBM Corp., Arnold hasn't had an office at the Armonk, N.Y., company since her last maternity leave in 2000.

"When I was younger and saw latchkey kids, I felt bad for them," Arnold said. "My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and to be able to do that and still work was important to me."

Whether it's a need for work-life balance, a desire to avoid the drudgery and expense of commuting or the urge to help the environment by reducing gasoline consumption, more workers are asking for and getting permission to work at home. With telecommuting easier thanks to technology, employers are welcoming the idea to please workers and as a defensive measure against such threats as potential terrorist attacks and transit strikes.

There has been a 65 percent increase in the incidence of working from home during the past two years, according to a study by The Dieringer Research Group.

In 2004, 7.6 million full-time employees worked from home at least once a week. In 2006, there were 12.4 million. Adding in contract workers, that number bumps up to 28.7 million.

Telecommuting is easier these days because of the penetration of high-speed Internet access and the movement of work to the Web, where employees can collaborate whether their desk is in the next cubicle or the next state.

The Dieringer report noted that 19.1 million teleworkers used a broadband Internet connection last year, up from 8 million just two years before.

Ed Moran, the director of product innovation at Deloitte Services LP, said the word "telecommute" is obsolete.

"The telephone is only a part of the solution," he said. "You spend a lot of time on e-mail. You spend a lot of time on collaborative Web sites where you share documents. It's really Web commuting."

Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of Families and Work Institute, said she's seen a surge of acceptance for telecommuting in the 18 years since she founded the institute.

"Companies used to think of flexibility as something to give to valued employees," Galinsky said. "It was a favor or accommodation to someone you didn't want to lose. Now companies are seeing it as a strategic business tool."

Teletrips Inc., which aims to reduce commuter traffic, argues that 32 million Americans could be telecommuting at least one day a week.

Time not spent in traffic would mean the equivalent of 4 million extra workdays during one week alone.

Also, The Telework Coalition, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., reports that reducing office space when workers shift to telecommuting saves an average of $3,000 to $10,000 an employee.

IBM, which introduced tele-commuting in 1995, has emphasized the development of a mobile workforce to attract, motivate and retain employees. About 40 percent of its 128,000 U.S. employees do not have a dedicated company office, up from 30 percent in 2001. About 25 percent work from home; others are on the go or assigned to a customer location.

A survey of IBM employees in 2001 found that 55 percent believed it was acceptable to work from home a couple of days a week. By 2004, acceptance swelled to 70 percent.

The employees who take advantage of the option to work from home tend to be more satisfied and tell the company they are more productive and committed, said Maria Ferris, IBM's director of workforce diversity. A big reason is the absence of wasted commute time.

"People can take that time and work longer or do something invigorating to them," Ferris said. "That might be working out or spending time with their families."

Mark Hanny, a vice president in IBM's Software Group, said he trusts his telecommuting employees to get the job done.

"You measure people on results," he said. "Whether they are sitting with me or in their bunny slippers in the house doesn't matter."