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May's work-from-home day emphasizes telecommuting

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by Christine Ballew-Gonzales

SBJ Contributing Writer

Southwestern Bell, in conjunction with Missouri officials, promoted May 6 as a day for Missouri workers to try working from home.

According to Southwestern Bell spokesperson Ellen Jacobson, the event was an attempt to increase the visibility of telecommuting options.

"We did this to recognize the growing trend of working from the home," Jacobson said. The work-from-home trend has swept up approximately 30 million workers and as many as 2.5 million workers per year are joining the ranks.

According to Southwestern Bell figures, the number of Americans who work from their homes either in temporary, as-needed or permanent situations is expected to quadruple in the next four years, bringing the total number of professionals working from home to nearly 140 million by 2003.

Two groups of workers seem to be particularly attracted to working from home, Jacobson said creative types who don't want to be confined to traditional business hours, and working parents who wish to jump off the day-care treadmill and be home with their children.

The latest, greatest boons to home workers are high-speed Internet access and the increased affordability of home computer equipment. With a personal computer, an Internet service provider and a fax machine, home workers are able to create virtual offices and conduct business via computer with clients all over the world.

Working from home doesn't just benefit the home worker, but conserves employer resources, as well. Jacobson cites increased productivity, saved office space and reduced lost time from illness as distinct employer benefits of work-from-home situations.

"It does help workers to be more productive," Jacobson said.

Southwestern Bell statistics indicate that productivity in some work-from-home settings can be as much as 30 percent higher than in comparable on-site situations.

Kathy Iman of Nixa found her work-from-home calling after discovering a Medicare billing error in her grandmother's medical bill. She launched KJI Enterprises, a company which assists people in clearing up incorrect and fraudulent medical and insurance charges, in 1997.

Conducting business from her southwest Missouri home is made easier by technology, but Iman said it takes effort to maintain a professional image as a home worker.

"Several people have commented that I must enjoy sitting around in my pajamas all day," she said. "I strive to maintain a professional and legitimate image for my business."

Iman said that the decision to work from home has been very satisfying for her entire family.

"Working at home has been very rewarding," Iman said, adding, "It has provided me with the flexibility to have my own successful business while reaping the priceless rewards of my most important jobs being Tyler's mom and Joe's wife."

Bruce Helm didn't set out to design a work-from-home situation when moving to Missouri from New York.

But when Helm began interviewing for advertising jobs in St. Louis, he began receiving requests for freelance work, prompting him to go into business for himself.

He moved to Springfield, setting up a studio in a corner of his home where he creates advertising and catalogs. Helm's advice to anyone thinking of starting a home business is simple.

"It's so important to do something you know well," Helm said. "Visit your local library and network with other work-at-homers their guidance can be invaluable."

Jacobson said Southwestern Bell considers the first annual Work At Home Day to be a resounding success.

"People have been very excited to talk about their experience working from home," she said.

"It may not be a permanent option, but a flexible option on a situation-by-situation basis. The opportunities are endless, and the financial rewards are unlimited," Jacobson added.

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