Work at home
Working at home—sometimes called
telecommuting, teleworking, and flexiplacing—offers many
advantages to those who seek flexibility.
BLS data show that many people who worked
at home reported doing so because of the nature of their
job or because that was where they conducted a business.
Smaller percentages worked at home to finish or catch up
on work, or to coordinate their work schedule with
personal or family needs.
The work that people do at home is either
for someone else—working at home either some or all of
the time—or for themselves. These types of arrangements
are often best suited to highly motivated workers who
enjoy being on their own.
Working at home for an employer
BLS data show that about 13.7 million
people worked at home for an employer at least once a week
in May 2004. Of these, however, only about 1 in 4 had a
formal arrangement to be paid for at-home work. The rest
regularly took work home with them but without a formal
arrangement to be paid for doing so. While both can allow
for some flexibility, this section focuses on those who
reported being paid for home work.
Working at home doesn’t have to mean
staying away from the office completely. Many people paid
to work at home spent 15 or fewer hours per week doing so,
spending the rest of their time at their employer’s
place of business or elsewhere. (See chart 1.) Less than 1
percent of all wage and salary workers—or about 575,000
people—worked entirely at home.
This type of arrangement creates
flexibility, but, says Jack Heacock, senior vice president
of the Telework Coalition in Washington, D.C., working at
home is still work. "You still have to do all the
tasks you used to do, but you do them from a distance. The
duties and requirements of the job are the same." Not
only are job qualifications the same, but at-home workers
often need additional qualities—such as the ability to
work reliably without supervision.
Pros and cons. Being able to spend more
time at home can be advantageous for some workers. For
many, a home office or the living room coffee table is
more comfortable than an employer’s office environment.
Workers can also save time or money—or both—by not
having to commute and not having to dress formally for an
office setting. And jobs that let you work at home for an
employer often come with the standard benefits, such as
paid vacation and health insurance.
Not all workers are cut out to spend their
days at home, though. Some people report feeling isolated
from their peers and missing office interactions. Workers
usually have an easier time with this arrangement if they
are self-disciplined and enjoy working alone for long
periods of time.
In addition, some work-at-home
arrangements don’t always provide consistent pay. For
example, you might be paid only for time you spend on the
phone or for the work that’s available.
How to get it. People in every major
occupational group worked at home, including about 9
percent of workers in computer and mathematical
occupations, BLS data show. (See table 3.)
When deciding whether your job is the type
that could be done at home, consider the tasks you do. And
trust your instincts. "Use your intuition as to the
specific kinds of jobs you can do at home," says
Jobs that require a mix of personal interaction and
independent work might be good candidates for some at-home
work. A school social worker, for example, might go into
the workplace to meet with students, administrators, and
others. The rest of his or her time might be spent at home
on reports and paperwork.
Technology has led to an increase in the
number of jobs that can be done at home. As a result, many
of these arrangements require that workers have a
familiarity with and competency in the use of computers,
the Internet, or other communications technologies.
This technology allows some people to work
at home all or most of the time. Jobs involving primarily
solo work or extensive time on the phone or computer might
be possible candidates for all-the-time work at home.
Occupations that are conducive to working at home all the
time include customer service representatives, data entry
keyers, and medical transcriptionists. But, says Heacock,
not all jobs are eligible for this kind of arrangement,
despite an increase in companies that are interested in
If you are looking for a job in which you
can work exclusively at home, you will likely encounter
lots of advertisements for opportunities, many of which
sound too good to be true. These ads promise that you’ll
earn a substantial income working part time, for example,
or require that you pay a small fee for materials. In
reality, the "substantial income" might refer to
earning a commission based on achieving an impossible
quota, and the "small fee" might be thousands of
dollars for equipment that does not include instruction in
its use. Avoid being duped. Carefully research a company
before agreeing to perform any work for it.
Work at home for yourself
Many people say that self-employment
provides the ultimate flexibility, because when you’re
your own boss, you set your own schedule. And about half
of the self-employed—or around 7 million people—worked
at home each week in May 2004, according to BLS.
Self-employed workers operate all types of
businesses, including stores and restaurants. Two-thirds
of the self-employed who worked at home had home-based
Pros and cons. Many people who are
self-employed at home say that they are happy to work for
themselves. Self-employed workers’ degree of
independence is, in ways, unparalleled. And the feeling of
accomplishment that comes with success is hard to beat.
But self-employment usually involves
considerable work, especially in starting up, without a
guaranteed return. And, depending on the field or
business, self-employed workers may not be able to do
their jobs at home. In addition, these workers don’t
enjoy many of the standard benefits that other workers
receive, such as paid sick leave. A day not worked is
usually a day not paid. Moreover, they might have to
invest in equipment or other necessities and can
experience sporadic earnings.
Self-employment might be best for you if
you are comfortable with financial risk and with promoting
yourself and your services. Many people who hope to work
for themselves reduce the risk by starting a business
while they still have a full-time job. They wait to quit
their full-time job until after they are more confident
they can be successful on their own.
How to get it. To work for yourself at
home, look into businesses and occupations that involve
For example, almost a million workers with
home-based businesses were in management occupations. (See
chart 2.) Workers in these occupations might include chief
executives or marketing and public relations consultants.
Personal care and service—another occupational group
with many home-based businesses—includes occupations
such as childcare worker and hairdresser, hairstylist, and
To start a business, think about the types
of products or services you’d like to offer, and look
into the local laws and regulations that affect
self-employment. Lynn Lee, of Austin, Texas, decided to
transfer her expertise as a teacher to providing in-home
childcare. She consulted local resources to find out the
requirements for starting her own business.
Lee’s glad she made the change. "It was really
pretty easy to get started," she says. "With my
own in-home childcare business, I can be at home—which I
love—and still work with kids."
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