The New Home Office

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David Gura's cluttered desk.

hide captionDavid Gura's cluttered desk.

Source: David Gura

Ah, to be your own boss, to set your own schedule, to work from the comfort of your own home... Could life be better?! This producer, who is writing from his cluttered desk, in a small office he shares with a colleague, under the numbing glow of six fluorescent bulbs, says "No. It couldn't." Unequivocally. More and more Americans are electing to work for themselves, as freelancers, contractors, and consultants. But Matt Bai, who covers politics for The New York Times Magazine, says that this "modern, untethered American work force" doesn't include everyone... Just the worker who can afford to pay for his own insurance and retirement benefits. Do you work for yourself, from home? If so, how is it? Do you wish you could? What's standing in your way?

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Hello
I run my Architecture firm from home, I am a mother with two children and love my freedom to be a family and take days off as I need them. I am lucky to have my health insurance through my husband's work. The down side is that I seem to always be on the clock and I sometimes work late into the night, the office is always here.

Sent by Laura Intscher | 2:13 PM | 11-13-2007

Your introductory remarks asked whether we needed a "new contract" between workers, employers, and government. As one who works in insurance billing---absolutely YES!!!! We ALREADY have a form of "socialized" medicine----albeit highly inefficient!!! The insured are often paying for the uninsured, in a tacit agreement that doesn't become public due to regulations & contracts between providers and insurance companies.

Sent by Marie Byars | 2:15 PM | 11-13-2007

PERFECT topic...have been expressing a lot of personal concern with what I do next; I finished a non-traditional college degree - leaving a 5 figure job to do so but, I'm a single parent living with someone where I do get some help with day to day expenses but I will be uninsured when my extended student health care ends. My daughter gets state help but I won't. I'm a photographer and working from home and very much day to day on income. Should I identify arrangements with potential bigger clients to get temporary care coverage. I work hard and would rather not return to a former corporate job I hated just to get coverage. My other option will be to sign up for more college classes to get affordable student insurance, albeit limited for someone in their 40's, an asthmatic, etc. I've thought about addressing this at recent candidate forums here in Iowa

Sent by carole | 2:15 PM | 11-13-2007

I work from my home for several different clients as a writer. I write for KIWI Magazine, I teach Technical Writing at a local college (this is the only time I have to leave my office), I write grants, medical journal articles, and also do some work with databases. I love working from home and I am fortunate that my husband's company covers my health insurance. We have a young child and my husband travels, so this arrangement gives us the ultimate flexibility. I don't think I can ever go back to a cube!

Sent by Mary Talalay | 2:17 PM | 11-13-2007

I also would like to comment on the first caller who looks with some disdain with people who "choose" to work at home; as a photographer and artist, there are sometime great limitations to opportunities except as freelance. Some of us believe we are an asset to a business world with creative means but simply can't find that work. I'm not lazy or trying to get the government to fund but surely a better health system can keep us all productive individuals no matter where we work from!

Sent by carole | 2:18 PM | 11-13-2007

You are forgetting one other thing and that is lack of protections from employment and other laws that you would get if you weren't a contractor. You can lose your job due to something out of your control and you cant file with the EEOC, NLRB; etc.

This also allows illegals to continue to work in this country since there is no employer (except maybe public) who asks if someone has the right to work in this country when they are in a contract situation. We had subcontractors in Co working at Buckley AFB ; a sensitive base according to Congressman Perlputter's staff but they were here working illegally and could have done harm to this country.

CO also passed a new employment verification law that took effect on 1 January but that law only effects public contracts and employees who are newly hired. They left out a huge loophole in that people who do contractor work still dont have to prove they have the right to work here.

It seems to us that this is a bad situation but one that people are stuck with if they want to earn a living and can't find other work and people who hire contractors including large companies are taking advantage of the law (including federal law which requires all people to prove they have the right to work before working in this country) and the people doing this. More of Bush's unregulated free enterprise!!!

Sent by jm fay | 2:20 PM | 11-13-2007

Downsides? How about lack of social interaction? I've heard this from several fellow home office workers. We get lonely. We miss the social interactions of the office!

In this small college town there are a lot of coffee shops with free WIFI so one thing I (and others) do is go hang out there at times.

Sent by Tim Holt | 2:20 PM | 11-13-2007

I am a graphic designer with a home office. While it is great to be flexible with my schedule with my children. I find I must be very careful to reveal this fact to my clients. When some clients discover I have a home office they often act in unprofessional ways - such as calling on weekends or off hours. Some even get irritated if I do not take their calls or respond to emails during non-business hours. It seems I become less of a professional business person in their eyes even though I act professionally and deliver highly quality work. It is so frustrating to not be taken as seriously just because I do not clock in to a traditional office.

Sent by Kimberly | 2:21 PM | 11-13-2007

I have been working at home full time for the same company for the past 6 years. So long as I have an internet connection (and a phone) I can get my work done. I only see my co-workers (and my boss) a few times a year. The best part about working from home is the extra time I get to spend with my children. While others are sitting in traffic or on a train, I am walking my kids to school. Plus with the price of gas I don't have to drive anywhere. The toughest part of the job for me is separating work from home. I'm always home and always at work. Another troubling aspect of working from home is being alone all day. Communicating by Email and phone is really not the same as face to face communications.

Sent by Jerome | 2:29 PM | 11-13-2007

I currently work from home. When my son was born in May, I was looking for a change from my pervious position that entailed a lot of travel and many late nights. My pervious position did not want to let work from home. I am currently a director for a Foundation and do business mainly by phone and email. I contract to the organizations board of directors.

My husband is a farmer and also self-employed. Health insurance is a major expense for us, but we have a high deductable plan with a HSA. We both have Roth IRA's, CD's, Mutual Funds and other savings for retirement. We currently only gross $45,000 annually and don't find it difficult to pay for health insurance and save for retirement.

Life is about choices. I choose to stay at home because I think it is what is best for my family.

Sent by Emily Zweber | 2:30 PM | 11-13-2007

I work as a ERP Software Consultant and employed by an American Company and normally traveled 100%. The transition of remote support the past few years and the internet had enabled me to be more productive from home and reduce costs to the client. This poses a win-win scenario for all

Sent by Allen | 2:30 PM | 11-13-2007

I'm a entrepreneur with a new business and am currently uninsured. Having grown up in Canada, I'm surprised by many Americans' attitude toward universal health care who associate it with socialism. My experience suggests the contrary. I know many former colleagues who would love to start their own business at home, but are afraid to leave their jobs that offer health care. To me it seems that the absence of universal health care is the single biggest dampener on the entrepreneurial spirit in this country. How much could the US economy benefit if would-be business owners could strike out on their own without fear of losing their insurance?

Sent by David Jamieson | 2:32 PM | 11-13-2007

You mentioned that the downside working from home is that workers are not always readily available. I work from home for a mostly 'on-site company', so I must be readily available during regular business hours - after hours too! I notify staff that I can be reached anytime. I have full-time child care in my home; I feel it is unfair to feed and play with my baby on the company dime.

Sent by Lauren Fenning | 2:32 PM | 11-13-2007

Lack of social interaction is a downside? I would much rather interact with people I choose to interact with rather than those I am forced to based on job availability.

Sent by pw | 2:35 PM | 11-13-2007

"Co-working fills need for socializing. People who get lonely working at home go in together on office space." Nuff said? This was in my Fresno Bee, out of the Phil. Inquirer Sept 23 2007

Sent by davy B | 2:37 PM | 11-13-2007

Where is there a legitimate resource to locate a job where I could work from home. Too many "work from home" opportunities are scams. As a single mom with administrative and data entry skills there aren't many jobs where I could work from home, are there?

Sent by Jeri Capri Richardson | 2:38 PM | 11-13-2007

I'm a domainer, and landlord currently after having worked in the IT sector for over 14yrs. I do find some challenges with working for myself at home, is the shortage of health care options, and bouncing ideas off of co-workers. In the domain world is very competitive so you can't really bounce ideas off each other.

Sent by Joe Bloniarz | 2:40 PM | 11-13-2007

I work from home selling industrial machinery to overseas customers. Most of my work is in China which is 8 hours behind my Pacific Standard Time. So I talk to them in the evening. I'd be hard pressed to do this without working from home. One just needs to be able not to answer the phone. I live in a rural setting, which I couldn't do without this kind of job structure. For me, it's a luxury. However, without my significant other's job benefits, this would be much more difficult.

Sent by Carl Henriksen | 2:41 PM | 11-13-2007

My wife and I operate a business communications consultancy from home -- fully 40% of our revenue is put aside for taxes as it comes in over the course of the year. That's just too doggone high! Tax reform for the self-employed is desperately needed in this country. Health insurance reform wouldn't hurt either -- between premiums and all those co-pays for our 3 young children we're getting creamed financially!

Sent by John B. | 2:47 PM | 11-13-2007

I am a program manager, have my MBA, and have the luxury of being able to work from home while being employed by a large company. I am incredibly productive, producing results for the company and client, and much happier working from home. Every company should allow employees to work from home. I save hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars in gas expense alone every year by not having to commute. I am also less stressed because I don't have to sit in traffic morning and night. The quality of family life is better for me, my husband and two young children as a result. If every company encouraged its employees to work from home, just think of the large systematic implications this would have! Traffic congestion on public roads would be eased, there would be less money needed to build up transportation infrastructure, gas consumption along with pollution would be reduced, individual health improved, and stronger families...to name a few benefits. To prime the pump and get employers on the bandwagon, the Federal and State governments should incent companies who allow employees to work from home.

Sent by Lori | 2:54 PM | 11-13-2007

I work as a Virtual Assistant. As a single mom I had to sell my house in order to fund my start up and pay for things like health insurance, but I really needed the flexibility.

Two years later my practice is full and there are times that I work at night, weekends or holidays. I think about my business all the time and how I can do things better or what I need to do next. I cringe every time I write a check to my health insurance provider and what retirement?

BUT I work from home, I take on work that I want to do, I pick my girls up from school every afternoon, go on all the field trips, work in the classroom, I know not only their teachers, but their friends and their friends parents.

I wouldn't trade any of that for the corporate world and a 9 - 5 J-O-B!

Sent by Lisa | 3:03 PM | 11-13-2007

This is directed at everyone who benefits from the work of free-lancers:

It's in your interest to nurture free-lancers who have proven their value to you, just as you would nurture a good employee. If you want to try someone else (to enlarge your pool), do so on a relatively small project and save the more valuable work for a proven performer. When projects are few and far between, you can still maintain contact. Let them know of info sources that may increase their knowledge of your industry. Perhaps even invite them to a background meeting. As a free-lance scriptwriter / speechwriter / copywriter, I was quite willing to attend at my own expense. You can also refer them to a company or industry colleague who might use their talents. When you've talked to them about a project that eventually falls through, by all means tell them. It's not good news for them, but not hearing anything is worse.

You may be dealing with independents more often than with employees, so you'll want the good ones to stay in business for the next time you need them.

Sent by Mike Quinn | 3:07 PM | 11-13-2007

As a health insurance professional -- a broker -- I was very interested in the discussion on your program today regarding the "Freelancer's Union" and the availability of health insurance through them. I run into folks every day that fit this description but cannot buy insurance due to relatively minor health problems. Imagine my surprise when I found that the coverage touted on your program as a "benefit" was a plan available to any resident of my state (Georgia)through any licensed agent -- with no affiliation required. The site did seem to have other benefits, available free of charge, but insurance, which was emphasized, is not one of them.

I would suggest that the "work from home" crowd look at what they really spend for health care during the year and how much their coverage is really paying. Then look at all of the various ways of covering those expenses with insurance. They may find that a health plan without co-pays for doctor's visits and a drug card actually save them both premium dollars and out of pocket costs. And this may be true even of those with significant health expenses.

The plus is that with some of these plans -- those that qualify to be used with a health savings account - can be deductible and can convert your out of pocket cost to a deduction also.

Just like anything, health insurance requires that you either do a lot of research or work with a professional that does the work -- but with health insurance the carrier usually pays the professional without additional charges for you.

Sent by Russ Childers | 3:44 PM | 11-13-2007

"Co-working." It is a movement responding to those people who feel isolated, not liberated, at home. People can find it to hook up. My above post was too brief. Jane M. Von Bergen wrote the article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Feel free to use this as a starting point.

Sent by davy B | 3:47 PM | 11-13-2007

I work for a large corporation and work from home. I have benefits. I think large corporations can take advantage of telecommuters and make them work more than legal hours and it is untraceable. I believe some 'work at home" labor laws need to be made, as I work between 70 and 90 hours a week but have to say I work 50 or else I will lose my job. Also, for singles this can be a very lonely place that can lead to depression. I myself, am a social person and have decided to take on a roommate, and attend college lectures with friends which balances it all out. (I can only talk to my dogs so much!) I don't suffer from depression generally, but I have "been there" in that dark place where we really need to learn how to re-socialize ourselves. Personal upkeep also takes a back burner, no makeup, working in pajamas, sometimes I don't even brush my hair in the morning on some days. I can offer more information and would like to be part of the study going on here. It's fresh material and like they guy said on the show, no one knows what is going on out there because no one is doing shows on this topic. I love NPR. Thanks so much.

Sent by Dana O. Smith | 3:48 PM | 11-13-2007

Its true that health insurance worries hold back many folks who could freelance...fortunately, here in Arizona we have a state program for small businesses that saved us. Its still pricey - and the program has stopped taking new members - but without it we'd be sunk. (we are freelance commercial artists who work with clients from all over) I'd also like to see more networking among various inter-related disciplines in the freelance world - artists who need writers, writers who need web developers - so that the collaboration benefits everyone.

Sent by Nancy | 3:52 PM | 11-13-2007

As the price of gas rises and congested highways delay travel times, as technolgy improves working from home becomes more and more viable. I urge anyone who find home office isolating to join a service organization. You've already saved 2-3 hours on commuting. Let's all strive to make the world a better place. I am an audio publisher and novelist.

Sent by Ted Magnsuon | 4:12 PM | 11-13-2007

I have been telecommuting from my home in Boise, ID to an office in Seattle, WA since May. Until recently, it was a dream come true. My sales increased immediately once I was able to focus less on office BS and more on my clients. The flexibility of only needing an internet connection and cell phone allowed me to travel during the summer and not have to fudge on a time card. Unfortunately, I've now been told that "working at home is a gift" and that my career path with my company is effectively null and void because I'm not in the office. Did I mention I work for a dot come that is a satellite office of headquarters based in VA? Really short sighted. I'm looking for a new job but I have a feeling that the independence I've developed will steer me in the direction of other "remote" opportunities. Sure I get lonely but the occasional coffee shop and a trip to the gym seem to fix that. I definitely save on gas by not commuting and by not having to maintain a wardrobe of suits that need to be dry cleaned, I'm saving money and the environment. Working from home has been a huge blessing and I hope to continue with a new company who values productivity and increased sales numbers. However, health insurance is a huge worry of mine as I think about starting a family. That is why I have not taken the plunge and gone completely contractual or independent. I just don't trust the system and with a mortgage, can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars a month for "just in case".

Sent by Brooke Ramstad | 4:28 PM | 11-13-2007

Hello. When I heard your program about telecommuting, I couldn't help but feel a little frustrated. I am a college graduate with a B.S. in electronic media production and recording industry and cannot find a use for it other than dust collection. I went to school intending not to have to work the same jobs after graduating, but unskilled hourly work is all I've been able to get in 1 1/2 years. So for all the people who are struggling with the inconveniences of new employment situations; be thankful you have the option. It gets cold on the outside looking in.

Sent by Michael Watson | 12:10 AM | 11-14-2007

I'm a business owner with ~20 employees and have employed two people at remote locations for a period of a few years. Unfortunately, they slowly lost touch with the rest of the staff - though we paid to fly them in frequently - and the overall productivity of the model and camaraderie that helps humans get through those rough spots in the work environment went away. Their productivity was adequate - though not necessarily better than work-in-the-office workers - but the lack of team interaction was a deficit long term.

But I don't think that's the most important issue.

Productivity, Return on Investment, Competitive Advantage.

I know these are considered evil things to the entitled many; but they move ideas to actions when business is involved. I think they should be considered by government when it is involved in issues of workforce, as well. These things are important for a business and for the nation as a whole because when they rise, everyone's financial status rises - whether considered in the business or in the nation.

The concept of "government" funding the "excessive benefits costs" belies the source of funding them. Theoretically, the most effective and cost effective method of delivering benefits should be the right one - regardless of whether that means funded by the individual or business (pre- or post-tax or whatever) or by a government-funded model. The end picture is the same: if productivity drops, the net value to the producers will eventually be a value / income loss.

This all ignores the government-created effects of inflation; but that's an aggravator and should not be used to discredit the significance that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

In short: any model - work at home, or other - that increases overall productivity of our workers / companies / nation should be on the table. Anything that pretends that there is a magic "nobody pays for it" resolution to benefits or any other costs is wrong. Productivity increases, however, can pay for benefits and many other things.

Okay, so what's this got to do with work-at-home?

If the work-at-home worker is either less expensive or more productive it's a win - for the nation as a whole. If, for example, the worker drops an hour each way of commuting and increases work / output by one hour at the same cost, the net is a positive impact for both the worker and the business / nation. Of course, the net improvement of less travel has even more positive effects on the planet and even on the road and car wear. This model, quite simply, is "sellable" to businesses and benefits everyone.

The alternative model, though: worker has no travel, but does not increase productivity or decrease cost is not viable. It is not profitable, though it has been forced on large companies in urban areas (I'm in the Los Angeles area) as an alternative to financial penalties. Duh. Financial loss to the nation as it's a productivity loss.

Yes, work-at-home is viable... if it increases productivity or decreases cost. In short, if it's good the all parties involved and our nation at large.

Sent by Gregory | 12:41 AM | 11-14-2007

I found this story of interest because it addresses a few important things, a person's freedom to choose and a desire to contribute in a variety of productive ways. Also, with the growing concerns over the price of oil and fuel I too am looking for a work from home project and to ditch my daily commute of 40 miles. I have a 4 year old son and a wife who currently stays at home to care for him, but we have only 1 car for our use and I have to be home to take him to preschool, go to the store, take my wife to the doctor, etc. This flexibility would be nice if I could discover an employer to match my skills with. It's amazing how many "work from home" jobs (schemes) are on the Internet, but so far have found none that are legitimate. In fact, just to find out what one was about I conceded to pay a small upfront "training material" fee to be a Data Entry operator. What I found in this material surprised me. They said basically, here, do what I'm doing - posting messages on job boards telling prospective "work from home" employees to pay upfront cash for this same information. Good luck! While they claimed it was legal, it was essentially misleading and fraud. So, I continue today for potential legitimate work from home employment.

Sent by Vince | 4:23 AM | 11-14-2007

There is a HUGE misconception in the media that this is a home-based trend, ONLY. The reality is that we're witnessing the rise of the virtual economy that stretches from home-based companies to those renting space to mid-size companies like Court Square Data Group in Springfield, Mass. to major corporations like INTTRA and Arch
Chemical that operate "hybrids" where many staffers work from home or rental space and rarely come into the office. Then there are the companies that allow teleworking, which implies some office time and some time outside the office.

For more information on this trend go to http://virtualdream-amyz.blogspot.com where I maintain content on the virtual economy. For reports and articles I write on this subject see www.hidden-tech.net.

And for how to actually work this way visit my blog on EONS.com where I am the virtual business expert. It's posted weekly on the Building a Virtual Company Group (that's under People, Groups, Careers).

Amy Zuckerman
Principal, A - Z International Associates in Amherst, Ma.

Founder of Hidden-Tech, the network for virtual company entrepreneurs

EONS Virtual Business Expert

Sent by Amy Zuckerman | 10:44 AM | 11-16-2007

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