Friday, 30 October 2020

Residents join growing number of telecommuters

For Steve Schoonveld, going to work isn’t synonymous with commuting to the office.

The 50-year-old actuary for Lincoln Financial Group used to have an office, actually, but it was decided he no longer needed it. When visiting clients across the country he can work and teleconference on his computer.

When he’s back in the Boston area, he can work at home.

As a telecommuter, the Mansfield resident sees several advantages. Working at home gives him more family time and less of the hassle of trains or driving to and from work. He’s also able to participate in the governing of his town, where he serves as a selectman.

“It’s wonderful from a family perspective,” said Schoonveld, father of two young boys, ages 4 and 7. “I can be reading with my boy at 9 and be in a conference minutes later.”

Telecommuting is a growing force in business and nonprofits whose workers don’t need to be tethered to an office desk. While only a minority of workers telecommute more than half the time, that number is poised to grow.

Telecommuters don’t necessarily see working from home as easier than a 9-to-5 job.

“Actually, I probably work more than I would if I were going back and forth to the office,” said Schoonveld, who added that 10-hour days are typical for him.

Various teleconferencing apps make it possible for Schoonveld to consult with clients and fellow employees. It’s important, he said, not to become isolated.

“You really need to be careful to plan face time with your bosses and fellow workers so that you remain part of a team,” Schoonveld said.

It’s not just numbers guys who are benefiting from telecommuting or working for themselves at home.

In hundreds of industries, from retail to technology, telecommuting has become a popular alternative. And among those who operate a small business, more and more are taking advantage of technology to do business out of their homes, according to organizations such as the National Federation for Independent Business.

“Technology today allows a lot of workers to do their jobs at home in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger Gray and Christmas, a global outplacement and executive coaching firm. He said the percentage of workers who telecommute at least part of the time has doubled recently.

Telecommuting is even beginning to become a factor in jobs that traditionally have required brick-and-mortar stores and offices, such as customer service.

“Driven by the mass closure of stores and the expansion of e-commerce, last year for the first time we saw a number of retailers letting people do their work at home,” he said.

More companies are being driven to offer telecommuting as an option because of the shortage of qualified workers, Challenger said.

“Telecommuting allows companies to draw from employees who are outside the typical one-hour commute distance.”

Telecommuters aren’t the only ones leveraging technology to work at home.

Herb Wagstaff is an idea man. And although he has a small workshop where he turns those ideas into reality, he does the bulk of his thinking at home.

The North Attleboro resident, 71, is a retired kitchen designer and former piano rebuilder who likes to invent things. His imaginative creations have included an automated band that plays rock music backed by its own instruments as well as musical picture frames.

His latest work is a realistic-looking flame-less fireplace that doesn’t need a flue or a chimney.

Wagstaff can network at home or in person and markets his products through stores and displays in public locations as well as word of mouth.

“Working out of my home gives me a lot of freedom,” said Wagstaff, who added that he probably wouldn’t be able to afford a store location. He said he looks to marketing his ideas as a source of extra retirement income.

Wagstaff operates mostly on the phone or in person.

John Bates, who bills himself as the “Jobs Guy,” has been working at home for several years helping mid-level career people move up or find more satisfying jobs.

The Mansfield resident coaches job seekers on networking, resume writing and other skills. He also troubleshoots their search efforts and uses web-based sources to help target likely employment prospects.

For Bates, who built an office addition on his home, working where he lives has many advantages.

“I’ve worked with clients all over the country and the world,” he said. “I can easily work with people in different time zones. I can talk to them when it’s most convenient for them.”

According to the latest report from Global Workforce Analytics, the number of work-at-home employees has grown 140 percent since 2005, about 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.

The report estimates 4.3 million employees, or 3.2 percent of the U.S. workforce, now works from home at least half the time.

Working at home has become more common for self-employed entrepreneurs as well. The report indicates virtually all growth in self-employment since 2005 — 43 percent — came from home-based businesses.

Employers are becoming more open to telecommuting as well, according to the GWA report. Forty percent more U.S. employers offered flexible workplace options than five years ago, although only about 7 percent offer it to most employees. Companies in New England and the Mid-Atlantic the most likely to offer telecommuting options.

A typical telecommuter is college-educated, 45 or older and earns an annual salary of $58,000 working for a company of more than 100 employees. Of those who work from home, 75 percent earn at least $65,000 per year.

While being able to work at home might seem like a perk, allowing certain employees to do that at least part of the time also has big incentives for business, according to Global Workforce Analytics.

If all those with compatible jobs and a willingness to work from home did so just half the time, the national savings would amount to $700 billion a year, GWA estimates, including an $11,000 average saving per person for each business.

There would also be considerable environmental benefits, the report says, including a reduction in greenhouse gases by taking commuter vehicles off the road.




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