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Way Out There?

Is telecommuting the office of the future or just a bad idea that comes and goes?

John Land is a programmer for StickyData.com, a New York City-based Web development company. But Land, 25, isn't a typical employee. You won't find him at the office-he telecommutes from Fairfax, Virginia. "I'm more productive this way," he says.

Five years ago, prognosticators said Land would be the norm by now. While the International Telework Association and Council counts about 24 million regular telecommuters, the prediction that everyone would trade travel time for a home office hasn't panned out. Why? Leery managers.

In an October 2000 CareerEngine.com survey, the career site found 62 percent of managers wanted to decrease telecommuting, and 21 percent wanted to phase it out. And a September 2000 American Management survey recorded that 31 percent of managers had concerns about telecommuters' productivity. "A lot of people were skeptical about whether telecommuters were really working," says Jim Ferrara, CEO of CareerEngine.

In fact, many companies are dragging their feet and hoping telecommuting will just go away. But might it take off as younger generations take the reins? Michael Dziak, author of Telecommuting Success: A Practical Guide for Staying in the Loop While Working Away From the Office (Jist Publishing), thinks so.

"Boomers learned to manage in an industrial economy where the only way to perform was to be there," Dziak says. But younger leaders who grew up with laptops will want to continue to have mobile lifestyles and won't mind others doing the same. "The Gen X effect on telecommuting will be significant," he says, predicting remote work will be so common in 20 years, the term "telecommuting" will disappear.

Katie Lukas, 24, co-founder and CEO of StickyData-which has 13 employees and annual sales just over $1 million-says telecommuting makes sense for her company. It allows employees to get more work done thanks to fewer distractions and frees up office space. "If we trust the person," she says, "we trust them to telecommute." The challenge it poses for managers is transitioning to a mind-set that manages projects instead of people.

Telecommuting means longer work hours for Land, but he doesn't plan on returning to the 8-to-5 office routine anytime soon. "The whole idea," he says, "is to do a good job so you can keep telecommuting."


Contact Sources

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Way Out There?.

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