Back in 2010, the company I was working for on the East Coast did a pilot study on working from home. They work with sensitive information which naturally made them reticent to having employees working remotely. But when they established a secure way to connect from home, they first allowed employees with seven or more years of tenure to work from home one day a week. Not even a year later, they allowed all employees to work one day a week from home. They established clear rules, schedules and trained workers. It made a huge difference in our work weeks as there was at least one day we didn’t have to trek in.

On a larger scale since then, working from home has become more commonplace and no longer the role of a self-employed business owner. Telecommuting jobs are moving away from the scam aspect (“Make thousands from home!”) and into a legitimate way to work for corporations. The ubiquity of technology has made it possible for us to work remotely from home. Though technology has blurred the lines between home and work in some way, it’s a trade many of us are willing to make in return for an easier commute and improved work-life balance.

Gallup Poll reports on more happy at-home workers

A recent Gallup Poll published earlier this year showed an uptick in the number of people working from home. The Washington Post reported that 43 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed work from home, an increase of 4 percent since the last poll in 2012. The poll also showed that people are working more days from home too—between three and four days from home. The workers who spent more time working remotely from home were reported as being the happiest and most engaged in their work.

The Post credited that increase in engagement to better Internet connectivity and ease in videoconferencing. Companies are seeing the benefits and helping their employees make the transition. This workplace trend is not just a U.S. one either. FlexJobs, one of the more renowned telecommuting job boards, reported that the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Japan and Turkey have companies taking measures to allow more flexible work schedules. Turkey’s government has passed policies protecting telecommuting workers from discrimination. Toyota in Japan is allowing one-third of its workers to work remotely.

Remote workers more productive

In a TEDx Stanford talk earlier this year, Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at the university, spoke about the prevalence and highlighted the benefits of telecommuting.

“It’s a trend that companies can’t ignore,” he said in his talk. “The workplace is a surprisingly distracting place in which to concentrate and work.”

He cited a pilot program performed by Ctrip, a Chinese company that was expanding and looking for ways to scale its workforce without spending on office space. They randomly selected part of their workforce to work from home every day except for one day in the office per week. Managers oversaw the work of both remote and in-office employees. The company saw that their remote workers brought in more revenue.

“The company found that working remotely saved time and money. Workers completed a full shift as opposed to being late because of traffic or taking an extended lunch break with a colleague,” Bloom said. “Remote workers tended to be more productive, which helps with retention, helps firms be more profitable and reduces congestion [on the roads],” he said.

With the average commute being 45 minutes, that’s an extra hour and 30 minutes employees save themselves, not to mention the environment, from being in traffic.

These results coincide with the Gallup Poll’s which cited that employees working remotely reported being the happiest and were more engaged in their work.

Living Local’s publisher, Steve Russo, also saw a shift toward remote working and the benefits of it. Russo manages several magazine brands, including Real Northwest Living, Northwest Sizzle, 360 Magazine, Like Media Digital in addition to Living Local with a staff of 15 operates from their personal homes spanning Washington and Northern Idaho.

“I was researching and recognized there was a shift occurring away from ‘traditional’ workspaces. I also recognized that some of the best talents out there were homebound due to raising kids. We set out to create a flexible, creative workspace that fostered professional growth,” he said in an email.

He cited only one negative, which is the loss of in-office collaboration, but noted several benefits, a major one being the ability to obtain talent regardless of location.

“We allow our employees to set their own schedules. If we have to ask for check-ins, then that person isn’t a self-starter to begin with, and we only want people that push themselves,” Russo said.

Motivation and the ability to work autonomously are important prerequisites. If a company is going to trust employees to work from home, those workers need to maintain and show their productivity.

Careers ripe for telecommuting

Every year, FlexJobs, one of the more well-known job boards, publishes a list of the top-100 companies that offer remote positions to their employees. The 2017 list includes notable companies as Amazon, IBM, Xerox and several government departments such as the Department of Agriculture (No. 18) and the U.S. Department of State (No. 52).

FlexJobs also reported that many careers applicable for telecommuting were professional-grade jobs where most workers held a bachelor’s degree and worked half of their work week from home. They too reported an increase in remote workers: 56 percent in 2016, up from 50 percent in 2014.

High-level careers that lend themselves to telecommuting include: computing and information technology fields, engineering and architecture, medicine and health, government and finance, customer service, virtual assistance, transcription services, graphic design, and training and sales.

Don’t quit your day job yet!

 

While workplaces are recognizing the benefits of working from home, telecommuting jobs aren’t out for grabs. It’s best to search for a job you’re qualified for and inquire about telecommuting possibilities as opposed to solely searching for a remote job. Many positions require communicating through a messaging board no matter how autonomous workers are left to accomplish their tasks.

In spite of the growing acceptance of viable telecommuting positions, there are many temporary jobs that pay but may be less viable in terms of a having a sustainable, steady job. Scan Craigslist or other job boards and you’ll find work-from-home jobs calling for survey takers, English tutors, website testers, data entry, writers and editors, email or chat support positions, and search engine evaluators. (If you are curious, desperate or looking for a range of experience, some jobs range from game testing to searching for broken links on websites.) These jobs typically don’t include benefits and offer only short working stints.

Freelancing and the gig economy

More people, however, are opting for short-term work in addition to full-time employment or retirement. These individuals work short-term jobs either out of need, income supplement or pure passion. Globalization and improved technology have validated the freelance worker.

Over the years, there has been an uptick in the number of individuals freelancing (also known as on-demand work). In 2016, Intuit (makers of TurboTax) and Emergent Research conducted a study in which they noted 3.7 million people in the U.S. freelance. Their goal was to understand the behaviors of this population. In part, the recession of 2008 forced some people to find work however they could.

On the other side of the telecommuting pendulum, the strengthening of the economy since then has given another segment of workers the financial confidence to let go of full-time work in favor of freelancing. Forbes reported on the study and noted, “For a large number of participants in this labor market, signing up with on-demand platforms is an offensive move aimed at gaining greater financial security and/or greater satisfaction and control in their professional lives.”

Freelancing means freedom. Tasks change and individuals can pick and choose what jobs to take. Understandably, this is easier said than done. For anyone who has attempted freelancing full time, landing jobs can be time-consuming and full of tests, searching and vetting and also the challenge of fulfilling your client requests. A more practical way to find freelance work is to specialize in a certain area, instead of trying to fit every job requirement exactly.

While flexible jobs are growing, stitching together enough jobs to make a living off it alone takes time and may be difficult for some. Study participants listed that as one of their top challenges. So, while financial instability is a part of freelancing, it is more reliable as a supplement to full-time work.

Tips and tricks of the flexible trades

Working from home has come into acceptance in recent years, but for a long time it wasn’t an option except for a select few. Tradition and also trust have arguably kept companies and people in the 9-to-5 grind. That said, keeping the trust of those who hire you is important in getting more work. Checking in regularly is important as well as keeping a consistent schedule.

Freelance jobs, though temporary, may keep you accountable for the length a job takes to complete. Many remote jobs will ask for an estimate of time and rate per job. You’ll have to become adept at estimating how long a project will take to complete, keeping in mind a margin for error.

“One tip is that you must be able to understand intimately the various projects, what they take and how long they take to complete. Let’s face it, as many as there are honest hard workers, there are those that exist to try and ‘get one over.’ Therefore, if you know that it takes X amount of hours to do such and such, and you have an employee that is taking double the time, you have an issue,” said Denise Supplee. Supplee has made a living as a realtor with Long & Foster, operations director at SparkRental and educator at Snaplandlord. Realtors have long been able to establish their own schedules, which she did while she launched Snaplandlord.

To protect yourself and to know what’s expected of you, ask for a contract or something in writing (an email could suffice) about the workload. Last, keep in mind that you are responsible for your taxes, as freelance jobs typically do not set that aside for you.

Get good tools. Do your research and find tools to help you manage and keep track of your billable time. Tools like the HiveDesk have calendars, task lists and discussion boards to communicate with your virtual team. Google has a similar tool. Or, use a good old-fashion spreadsheet. Whatever you choose, be diligent so you can properly invoice and be compensated.

Where the virtual jobs are

If you’re ready to become one of the 350,000 Americans that Forbes has cited doing on-demand work, again, do your research. There are many job boards where some postings might be too good to be true. Try vetting companies before applying.

A good place to start looking for freelance work are job boards such as FlexJobs, Upwork, Guru, Indeed and Real Ways to Earn Money Online. Consider also emailing companies you’d like to work for and networking on LinkedIn through friends and coworkers. Similar to LinkedIn is WAHspace, which is specifically geared to remote workers.

Remote work benefits employers and workers

As commutes lengthen and people live farther away from major cities, working remotely is a win for both companies and workers—whether full-time or on a freelance basis. It saves time commuting, which in turn reduces carbon emissions and also saves on the overhead costs of housing employees on a job site. And, finally, it gives workers a chance to be closer to family—even if it means working outside of the 9-to-5 schedule.

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