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At home but on the clock

Durangoans part of increasingly common telecommuting

With his kitchen right beside him, Walker Thompson works from his home office in which he is vice president of sales and marketing for WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions, as well as a partner in Social Transactions. While there are benefits to having remote workers, such as not paying for a building to house employees, it can be difficult to make sure the leadership is on the same page, Thompson said. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

With his kitchen right beside him, Walker Thompson works from his home office in which he is vice president of sales and marketing for WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions, as well as a partner in Social Transactions. While there are benefits to having remote workers, such as not paying for a building to house employees, it can be difficult to make sure the leadership is on the same page, Thompson said.

Yahoo’s decision earlier this month to bring the company’s remote workers back to the office sparked a national conversation about the practice, one that is on the rise and could have an economic impact on rural areas.

The number of people who work remotely increased 73 percent from 2005 to 2011, according to Telework Research Network, an employment research firm.

Rural communities and vacation areas are recruiting more telecommuters so they have people year-round to boost the local economy, said Kate Lister, co-founder of Global Workplace Analytics, which collects data for the research network.

The rise in telecommuters is changing how communities recruit businesses because they are recruiting individuals, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.

“It’s opened the potential for people coming here,” he said. “We’re not selling to a company ... we’re selling a place to live.”

Hiring telecommuters also helps the local real estate market because there is limited space for companies to build their headquarters, he said.

About 63 percent of employers surveyed in a Families and Work Institute study reported allowing at least some employees to work from home on an occasional basis, up from 34 percent in a similar study done in 2005, according to an Associated Press article.

Even more people want the option of working from home at least on a part-time basis.

Eighty percent of workers want the option, and workers with more flexibility are more loyal to their employers, Lister said.

“They’re less stressed, less inclined to quit and more highly engaged,” she said. “They’re sick less often because they are less exposed to sick people.”

A company can save $10,000 to $13,000 a year on one employee that telecommutes part-time because of his or her increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, she said.

Having a staff of teleworkers severely decreases a startup’s expenses. The company doesn’t have to pay for desks, a building or any of the various costs associated with the infrastructure, said Walker Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing for WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions, who telecommutes from his home office in Durango.

Thompson said the hardest part of telecommuting is maintaining connections among employees.

“The emotional contact I need to thrive can be overlooked. High performers will bail if they don’t have that contact,” he said. “One of the challenges as a leader is understanding what an employee needs and then actually doing it.”

He uses Google Hangout – an Internet service that allows real-time chats, face-to-face meetings and the like – to connect with employees and he uses Google documents so the entire team can share a document and add to it. It creates a collaborative atmosphere even though they’re not in the same office, he said.

While telecommuters have the benefit of working from home, it can be harder to stop working at the end of the day and return to normal life.

“The physical departure has an emotional thread. You can cut the thread a little bit if you are physically leaving,” Thompson said.

That is part of the benefit of working in Durango Space, said co-founder Jasper Welch. When the day is done, the employees walk out of the office, and the space gives them another place to connect.

But experts acknowledge telecommuting isn’t for everybody.

“When one person isn’t in the office every day, it’s harder to communicate,” said Shane Larson, a software engineer for MarkIt on Demand who telecommutes from Mancos. “You need someone who is a self-starter, who doesn’t need constant supervision and management.”

jdahl@durangoherald.com

The “break room” is never far away for Walker Thompson, who is one of the 63 percent of workers who telecommute at least on a part-time basis, according to a Families and Work Institute study. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

The “break room” is never far away for Walker Thompson, who is one of the 63 percent of workers who telecommute at least on a part-time basis, according to a Families and Work Institute study.