STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Telecommunicating has become so mainstream that more than one-third of companies now allow employees to do their jobs from home - like say if they're snowed in.
NPR's Adam Hochberg discovered one company where employees do not have any choice. They must all work from home.
ADAM HOCHBERG: There's no longer anything novel about the way Laura Schoppe does her job. Each workday, she goes upstairs to her office above the garage of her rural North Carolina home. And surrounded by her two dogs, Zoey and Bella, she runs a multimillion-dollar company called Fuentek that helps its clients commercialize new technology.
Ms. LAURA SCHOPPE (Owner, Fuentek): So this is my desk.
HOCHBERG: Okay. So I was going to say you keep this a very professional environment, then I saw...
Ms. SCHOPPE: Except for the dog bed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HOCHBERG: Then I saw the dog bed in the back.
While it's not unusual nowadays for people to work from home, Schoppe's company takes the idea to an extreme. All 40 people who work for Fuentek are required to telecommute. Schoppe calls Fuentek a "virtual company," with no traditional office at all.
Ms. SCHOPPE: When I started this in 2001, right from the start, the idea was that it was all going to be home-based. To create a brick-and-mortar environment really wouldn't have provided any better service for our clients, and it really wasn't what we were looking for.
HOCHBERG: Schoppe says the decision was a practical one at first. When she founded the consulting firm with just two other people, they saw no need for formal office space. But as Fuentek grew and began hiring engineers, technical writers and others she found they were more productive when they worked from home and set their own schedules.
Ms. SCHOPPE: I think you get better loyalty. I think people are more willing to get the job done. And part of that is that flexibility of allowing people to have their personal life or their family life be primary.
HOCHBERG: Completely office-less companies like Fuentek are rare, but working from home is growing more popular at all kinds of employers. A 2008 survey by a consortium called World at Work found that some 17 million Americans telecommuted at least part time. Consultant Maryanne Perrin, who helps employers adopt flexible work arrangements, says telecommuting has become common in companies large and small.
Ms. MARYANNE PERRIN (Co-founder, Balancing Professionals, LLC): As they look at their business growing, this bricks and mortar that's going to have to grow along with it is extremely costly. And they've realized if they can take more advantage of telework, that they can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
HOCHBERG: Perrin notes, though, that a successful telecommuting strategy involves more than just packing up an employee's stuff and sending him home. New teleworkers may need to go through training, both on technical things like how to use remote software and on lifestyle issues, like balancing work and family. Supervisors also might need training to manage people they can't see.
University of Maryland professor P.K. Kannan says his research has found that about a third of people who can telecommute rarely do so, often because they're afraid their boss won't like it.
Professor P.K. KANNAN (Marketing professor, University of Maryland): It seemed like there was some stigma associated with telecommuting. Some people are saying it's a career suicide. If you're out of sight, you're out of mind, so I really don't want to telecommute even though I could.
Mr. JACK SPAIN (Recruiter, Fuentek): So we do focus in right here, experience working in a virtual office.
HOCHBERG: Fuentek, company where everybody works from home, tries to screen out job applicants who harbor negative feelings about telecommuting. Jack Spain, who handles recruiting, uses an electronic questionnaire.
Mr. SPAIN: Sometimes I can find that this is going to be someone that's pretty needy, they're looking for that well, okay, I'm okay with sort of working virtually but how am I going to get touch with you on a regular basis? You know, that sort of stuff.
HOCHBERG: And that's a red flag if you think they're going to be too needy?
Mr. SPAIN: Yes it is.
HOCHBERG: Spain says Fuentek has had few problems with its workforce of home-based professionals. But he concedes that telecommuting isn't for everybody.
Some workers, he says, tend to thrive on the camaraderie, meetings and structured hierarchy of a traditional office job things that can't be replicated at home.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.