Your Commute

More North Texans working from home and loving low-stress ‘telecommute’

Julie Geiger, who snapped this selfie with her dog Sadie, works five days a week from her Frisco home. She is a marketing specialist for veterinarians across North America. She is among a growing number of Americans who spend some or all of their typical work week “telecommuting” from home.
Julie Geiger, who snapped this selfie with her dog Sadie, works five days a week from her Frisco home. She is a marketing specialist for veterinarians across North America. She is among a growing number of Americans who spend some or all of their typical work week “telecommuting” from home. Courtesy of Julie Geiger

When her children became teenagers, Julie Geiger decided it was time to put her master’s degree back to use and return to work.

But the former public relations executive, who for several years had been a stay-at-home mom in Frisco, still wanted to be at least partially in control of her schedule.

So Geiger joined the growing number of Americans who have found jobs that allow employees to spend at least some — and in some cases all — of their shifts at home.

“Those kids and a desire for a work/life balance are the reason I opted to work at home,” said Geiger, who for the past seven months has worked as a marketing specialist for DVM Elite, a firm that helps veterinarians across the United States and Canada with publicity.

Geiger works at home five days a week. . She spends a lot of time on telephone conference calls, and makes presentations for clients on a computer screen that she controls but that they can also view online.

Work numbers

A variety of data sources all show that the number of Americans working from home — also known as telecommuting — has been on a steady rise for two decades.

Thirty-seven percent of workers have telecommuted at least once, a whopping four times the 9 percent of workers who reported working from home in 1995, according to a Gallup annual work and education poll released late last year.

It’s a virtual company. We function as a company but I have never met my co-workers in person.

Julie Geiger, who works in her Frisco home

An estimated 13.4 million workers now spend at least part of their work week at home, including 9.4 million who work at home essentially every work day and 4 million who do their jobs from home occasionally, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, based on in-depth questions during the 2010 Census. That’s a 69 percent increase from 1997, when 9.3 million employees telecommuted — 6.4 million every day, and 2.9 million occasionally.

Also, 22 percent of workers surveyed nationwide said they telecommuted more in 2014 than the year before, according to FlexJobs, an online company that, for a fee of $14.95 a month (or $29.95 for three months), helps prospective employees such as Geiger link up with companies that offer a work-from-home option.

“Flexible work will not only play a significant role in the future of work, it will be a key differential of successful employers,” said Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJobs chief executive. “Telecommuting and other types of work flexibility are starting to have a much-needed impact on the 21st century workplace, and there is no sign of it slowing down.”

Old work habits obsolete

Alan Pisarski agrees. Pisarski has written a series of books titled Commuting in America that track long-term trends in workers’ driving habits, and in a recent interview he said he sees the 8-to-5 shift gradually becoming obsolete.

Part of the reason is more workers seeking jobs that allow them to avoid wasted hours stuck in traffic. Also, employers who were once reluctant to let workers spend time unsupervised at their homes are now offering telecommuting as a job perk.

For many workers, the ability to keep flexible hours and spend time at home is worth more than a higher salary, Geiger said.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines last year hired more than 8,700 workers, including 1,400 reservation agents. Of those, 400 were home-based.

About 13.4 million Americans telecommute, including 9.4 million who do their jobs at home full-time and 4 million who work from home occasionally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

American auditioned those candidates using voice interview software, said Eva Zablodowsky, a new-hire recruiter assistant. The program, which has also been used by pilot and flight attendant recruiters, is sent to applicants who make it through the online application and screening process. Job candidates are told to call in and are recorded answering five questions.

Some employers are initially reluctant to let workers do their jobs at home, fearing they won’t work as productively with the distractions of their personal lives so readily available. But many employers find that it’s a worthwhile tradeoff to allow workers to spend at least a day or two per month at home because it often provides a huge boost in morale, said Sonya Landrum, a principal transportation planner at the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

“More companies are making it available,” said Landrum. “It’s just a matter of getting a complete buy-in from middle management.”

No place like home

In her seven months working for DVM Elite, Geiger, 46, has developed friendships with several co-workers, bonds that have been formed even though she has never met them face-to-face.

“It’s a virtual company. We function as a company but I have never met my co-workers in person,” she said. “The employees are all around the country. We have our daily huddles. I speak to them every day on the phone.”

From a small office in her Frisco home, Geiger works full-time helping veterinarians across North America develop advertising, marketing campaigns and websites.

Her husband works outside the home and her children are at school. Her dog, Sadie, is often by her side in the home office.

“I can sit at my desk for 30 hours per week. It allows me to get the kids to school, walk the dog and be at my desk by 8:30,” she said.

Geiger added that, although she might make a higher salary with better benefits and health care coverage by working in a more traditional workplace environment, she benefits in other ways.

“I don’t have to factor in [the cost of] my wardrobe,” she said. “There are no commuting costs, which can be a big expense including gas and trips down the tollway. … And my family eats out less because I’m at home in time to prepare it.”

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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