Why spend hours upon hours of your day commuting to work?
Author Tory Johnson visited the "Good Morning America" studio today to offer tips on how to make the transition from working in an office to working at home.
Her new book, "Will Work from Home: Earn the Cash -- Without the Commute," gives anecdotes, resource guides and lists of scams to avoid, all in pursuit of a commute-free workday.
Read an excerpt from her book:
In a perfect world, we'd all sleep late, stay in our pajamas on days when we're worn out, and have the time to do exactly what we want. We'd never punch a time clock, attend another meeting, or pick up fast food on the way home from a Little League game. We'd have prepared a fresh salad, pasta sauce, and cupcakes in advance, because we'd have the time. But real life isn't always conducive to such. Instead, we're late to the meeting, we're probably going to miss the first four innings of the game, and afterward, it'll be burgers or pizza. Why can't we turn that luxury-of-time fantasy into a reality?
Um . . . wait, we can. Suddenly, the choices we have to work from home, to set our own schedule, to be our own boss, and call the shots are exploding. To borrow from science, what we're seeing is the equivalent of a "Big Bang," and we're dealing with an enormous money-making opportunity. There's a whole new business universe out there, and it's changing the way many women and men work and live.
The myth is that homemakers eat bonbons, watch soaps, and take care of their kids. The reality is that there's a new revolution of people staying home these days and they're doing a whole lot more than folding laundry; they are moms and dads, new grads and grandparents, skilled professionals, and high-powered executives.
These individuals are finding more energy, more time, more ways to make money, and yes, they're doing it their way. So, if working from home is where your heart is, you are in the right place. It's definitely the right time.
According to the astronomers, the world as we know it, with all its galaxies, stars, and planets, started with a giant explosion. That set everything in motion and changed the universe. We don't know for sure that this is the way it happened, but we do know that the earth is here and that it works because of certain forces like gravity and circling the sun.
Okay, the "Big Bang" may be a slight exaggeration, but what we're seeing in society and the business world is a less galactic, but no less powerful, explosion of new ideas and attitudes caused by some dramatic trends that have been percolating underneath the surface for a decade or more.
These forces, or trends, are changing the way we think about work and its effect on our lives. They're making it easier for all of us to work from home, or the park, or the local coffee shop. Alternative working styles are no longer seen as a cop-out or a dropout from the traditional economy. They are very much a part of it -- the smart, savvy part for people who want work to support their lives, not the other way around.
"Is it really possible? Can I really stay at home and make money?" We've heard that question asked by thousands of women and men across the country. Our resounding answer is "Yes!" This is the perfect time, because the world of work is growing and changing. It's less rigid and more fluid, less restrictive and more inclusive, less traditional and more innovative. Why?
It's partly the trends, which we'll explore a bit further. You're probably already aware of some of them. Others may be news to you. Together, they're creating that "Big Bang" of opportunity we mentioned -- a new world with a galaxy of different job titles, small businesses, and ways to make money from home. These trends -- and your own gumption -- can take you out of the office, out of debt, out of your boring routine, and into a richer, fuller life.
Continuing advances in technology A global, changing workplace Emphasis on work/life balance A desire for more control
No matter what your needs, your skills, or your plans, these are trends to use. Let them encourage you. You're not the only one wondering if there isn't a better way to fit work into your life.
Others share your dreams. There's a whole army of smart, determined people out there who are overcoming the obstacles and finding solutions. You'll meet them as you journey through this guide.
There's a growing movement, a revolution going on, right now. It's real and wide and welcoming.
Tapping Into the Trends
Whether you grew up with a laptop, or can remember rotary phones, computers have rocked your world. We live in an information age and a global economy because of technology. Think high-speed connections, the World Wide Web, PCs, cell phones, and Instant Imaging. We can connect and do business with people all over the world, from almost anywhere, including home.
In the '80s, students began taking courses through "distance learning." Now American surgeons train doctors in Third World countries using remote-controlled, computer-guided robots. You can learn how to design Web sites, a job that didn't exist in the '70s, as well as any other number of skills.
In the '90s, companies harnessed the power of e-commerce. Want to buy a computer, new towels, a car seat, or a vacation? Shop online. Now workers travel and meet online as well. No need to waste time and money traveling to a meeting when they can share thoughts, images, voice, and text, in real time, by teleconferencing.
Millions of Americans research a medical diagnosis, apply for college, search for a job, plan a vacation, buy clothing, or find their dream house online. No doubt, you're one of them.
Maybe you logged onto the Internet at school or the office, but it's just as likely that you have searched, or shopped, from your den or bedroom. Ah, and there's the difference. Technology isn't new. It's been around since before the Industrial Revolution. It's just that now it has advanced to bring the machine home to us. More affordable and powerful computers and the spread of broadband have removed any technical barriers from working at home. We can change the world from our kitchens. We're all geeks, wired and ready to work right here, right now. Thank goodness for technology.
Not only has the Internet revolutionized the way we work and live, but it has created an alternative job market with new companies, new job descriptions, and new opportunities. Think chefs only work in restaurants? Meet Jennifer Beisser, CEO of ChefsLine, a business that supplies "on demand culinary advice for busy cooks." Clients find the service online, but they use the phone line to connect with a chef who will share personalized advice, step-by-step cooking instructions, and those little touches that can turn an ordinary dinner into fine cuisine. That chef who's providing the advice is doing so from his or her own home.
"It's for people staring at the same old chicken breast and thinking, 'Oh please, not again,'" says Beisser. "If they don't have time to read a cookbook, they can call our service, which is like having a cookbook that talks to you and works with you." ChefsLine.com is at the crossroads of connecting at-home cooks who want instant advice -- and are willing to pay for it -- with experts willing to dispense that advice from the home -- and get paid to do so.
Want to explore today's work-from-home job market? It's fast, easy, and so much bigger than you can imagine. Just let your fingers do the walking ... across your keyboard. There's no limit to your reach. The world is your oyster. You could become an Internet researcher for people without computer skills, the local beat reporter for a publication in another city, or take orders for flowers or clothing by phone. You could offer financial advice online, solve technical or tax problems, or sell anything from travel packages to baby clothes. Your boss might live across the country or even the world. No worries, mate. You're connected.
Big companies used to hire workers for the long haul. If you were loyal and productive, they'd promote you through the ranks and retire you with a gold watch and a pension. Now they're busy competing in a global economy and you're on your own. No more cradle to grave. Companies have slimmed down, automated, and closed factories. They've laid off workers, axed whole departments that didn't fit their needs, and shipped jobs overseas to cut costs.
If you've been in the workplace a while, you've seen the upheaval, maybe even the pink slips. You know that a job or a company can change on a dime. If you're a new grad, you've heard the drill -- you'll change jobs or careers up to seven or eight times in your working life.
There's been a lot of change, unrest, and even heartbreak in this job market. You've read about or been affected by the headlines -- the bankruptcies, mergers, massive layoffs, bubbles, busts, scandals, and fraud. But there's positive news, too. Many American companies are leaner, smarter, and stronger, and so are American workers. We've learned to adapt, take on new skills, and negotiate for what we want. No more expectations for a lavish retirement send-off. We're taking responsibility for our own careers.
"Women are at the leading edge of shifting the career paradigm for everyone. They're no longer acting as agents of their employers, but as career 'self-agents,' using flexible work arrangements and setting their own terms of employment as a way to make work 'work,'" says professor Mary Shapiro, at the Simmons School of Management in Boston. Hooray for us!
We're deciding when, where, and how much we want to work, depending on our economic needs and life stage. After a baby, a death, or a family crisis, women often cut back or rearrange their work schedules. There are circumstances when time, attention, and caring are more important than money. Only about 18 percent of us stop work altogether, however, according to a Simmons/HP study. That's a significant figure. It tells us that more women are figuring out alternative ways to combine work and personal life, so they can do both. An obvious alternative is to work from home.
When women first entered the workforce in great numbers, we tried to do it the guys' way. The commute, the nine to five, the navy suits, and the Day-Timer. Some of us made it to the corner office and beyond. A lot of us found great satisfaction in our jobs, but we also learned that the guys' way only worked for guys. Most of them had wives at home taking care of the house and kids.
Are you tired of trying to do two jobs in different places in the same twenty-four hours, and feeling like you're failing at both? Are you exhausted, frustrated, burned out, and stressed? We're not talking about the kind of stress that a hot bath and candles is going to cure. We're talking about the effects of living too long with all work and no play -- the screaming, stomach-knotting, hair-pulling kind of stress that spikes our risk for heart attack and stroke. Stress kills. Medical researchers keep doing new studies to prove that point and we know it in our gut.
So what's the answer? We don't want to quit work. We like it and we're good at it. What we want is time to go for a walk, read a book, spend time with our spouse, eat lunch with a friend, and watch our kid play baseball. While we're at it, we want to see the whole game ... and the fourth-grade play ... the school awards ceremony ... our best friend's wedding rehearsal ... and our parents' anniversary dinner. We want to be there for our lives -- not just work through them -- and we deserve to be. That isn't going to happen if we're chained to our desks, out of town, stuck in traffic, or working late through the events that matter.
What we want and need is some kind of balance -- a balance of work and life. Maybe it's our influence on the workplace, or maybe it's a changing society, but men have taken a hard look at the rat race, too. They've seen that in working long hours, traveling, transferring, and fighting their way up the ladder, they've missed a lot of ball games, too. Not to mention family dinners, vacations, and friendships. Is it worth it?
No. What good is a big salary if you never have time to enjoy it?
Changing attitudes are causing dramatic shifts in the traditional workplace, according to the Families and Work Institute. The old command-and-control style of authority, which worked when companies nurtured and groomed employees for their entire careers, no longer flies. Smart employers are figuring out that when employees are valued as people with real lives, not just time-clock punchers, they are happier and more productive.
Work environments are becoming more supportive. Ideas like flexible working hours, job sharing, onsite child-care centers, company gyms, and personal days off are commonplace in many companies now. These kinds of benefits are making it easier and more enjoyable for workers. They also make good sense for employers. Replacing an employee is expensive. Between the downtime when the job is unfilled and the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement, the price of replacing someone runs up to a third of an employee's annual salary, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management. It's cheaper to grant a few reasonable requests. So if you're a solid performer who wants to work from home, now's the time to ask. More bosses are listening.
They'll be listening even harder soon. There's an impending shortage of workers as baby boomers start retiring, and the younger generations don't have the numbers to fill all the jobs. They need you. That's the best time to negotiate. You've got leverage.
Companies are already discussing ways to keep the brain power of baby boomers on the payroll either by rehiring them as consultants where they set their own schedules, or letting them work part-time. The bottom line is that the American workforce is going to need everybody. Whether you want to find a job, change your job, go part-time, work from home, or combine work with college or retirement, your chances of finding a position you can work on your terms have never been better.
Teleworking -- people working remotely from the office at home -- is an idea whose time has come. Sure, bosses were skeptical at first. "If I send them home, how will I know they aren't napping or at the mall?" It didn't happen. People appreciated the freedom and convenience. They liked the trust. Without interruptions they often worked better. Research backs that up. Studies show that teleworkers usually are more productive. They are happier and more engaged in their work.
Employees gain, but so do companies. Sending people home to work means less office space to buy or lease and fewer utilities to pay. That improves profits.
It's also better for the environment, according to the Clean Air Campaign. Carpooling, van-pooling and mass-transit all decrease traffic and pollution, but teleworking takes cars off the highway altogether.
Lawmakers enacted the Telework Enhancement Act of 2007, which says that all future government employees be eligible to telework, in part to decrease traffic in Washington. What they saw outside their government windows was gridlock.
The idea is just beginning to catch on, with the Patent and Trademark Office leading the way. It has nearly 700 patent examiners working from home at least four days a week. It plans to increase that to 3,000 teleworkers by 2011. According to the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework, the average federal employee who works two days a week at home would reclaim 98 hours (now lost to commuting) and save $55.52 a month (with gas averaging $3 a gallon). Federal jobs can be found in all states -- and the government is facing a worker shortage as well. Anyone care to apply and volunteer to work from home?
You don't have to know these trends to work from home, but doesn't it add to your confidence? There are going to be more people working from home in the future. There's no reason why you shouldn't be one of them.
The beauty of this "Will Work from Home" movement is that one solution is the answer to so many different scenarios.
Not working isn't an option. We need to support or totally earn our household budgets. We just want a better way of doing it so that we can feel more successful at both. Wouldn't working at home simplify our lives, save us time and possibly money? Probably.
If you interrupted a career you love to stay home and raise your children, your issues are slightly different. You plan to continue your career someday, but you need a way to keep your contacts fresh and your skills sharp. You need a flexible job at home.
An at-home job is also a solution for fathers who want to get off the corporate treadmill, take more control of their careers, and play a greater role in parenting.
It's an answer for singles and couples without children who want more freedom to pursue hobbies, volunteer in the community, or travel. It's ideal for those with health challenges that preclude them from working outside the home.
If you're a baby boomer who is ready to lose the five-day week, nine-to-five schedule, but not ready to rock on the front porch, keep reading. A job at home or your own business could take you closer to your grandchildren or the golf course. It could offer work that is more fun or challenging and grow your retirement income.
Some of you may desperately need to take time off from the office routine to care for aging parents, or a spouse or child with a chronic illness. You may find yourself living in a different city or a remote area with massive unemployment or few jobs. If you have physical or medical limitations, you need real work that you can do without a commute. You may be newly widowed or divorced and need a way to support yourself.
Chef Erika Connell Cooper knew that she wanted to work with food by age fourteen. She held jobs in bakeries, catering companies, and restaurants before entering the New England Culinary Institute. After a job as a baking consultant with King Arthur Flour, she earned a bachelor's degree in food and beverage management.
Teaching business courses at her culinary institute, she met her husband, a fellow chef. In one year, the couple married, had a daughter, Greta, and moved to upstate Vermont. "We both felt that one of us should stay home with Greta, and for lots of reasons the best choice seemed to be me," she says. "I can't begin to tell you the feeling of isolation -- being in a remote area of New England in winter with a newborn baby -- but we made it."
After eight months, her husband became the executive chef for a restaurant chain, and the couple moved back to Massachusetts near family. Cooper continued to stay home with her daughter, and did some catering and teaching. When she had a job, her husband or parents kept Greta.
"I was fortunate to know a group of women who had left careers in the hotel industry, retail, and teaching to raise their children. We were all trying to figure out together [how to work and stay home]," she says. "Being an at-home parent is so challenging in lots of ways. Until I went back to part-time teaching and had conversations outside my home about my passion for cooking, I didn't realize how much I'd missed that. I knew that I had to find a way to work that let me remain committed to my family."
Listening to Tory Johnson on "Good Morning America" from a new home in Wisconsin, Cooper found a perfect opportunity, in ChefsLine, a company that hires chefs to give on-demand cooking advice to clients.
"When I called, I found that they were looking for people with culinary and customer-service skills, so I began working on the Chefs Hotline and doing consulting about twenty hours a week. This job gave me the flexibility I needed to work and stay home with my daughter," says Cooper.
After meeting owner Jennifer Beisser at a conference, Cooper also became the national director for marketing and sales for the company, a job that lets her use her cooking and business skills at home. "I'm using my brain again and have a renewed sense of faith in myself," says Cooper.
As much as she cherished the time with her daughter, Cooper felt like a part of her life was missing. "This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be doing. It's giving us some breathing room financially, and I can take the job with me if we move again. I feel so fortunate to have found this balance. I count my blessings every day."
Is the office grind killing your creativity? You're stifled working at a desk during the day. Your creative juices start flowing at 2:00 in the morning, not 2:00 in the afternoon. You need larger blocks of time to write, design or plan, time that isn't interrupted by meetings, office politics or coworkers. Home is the working environment you need.
On the other hand, if you're a stay-at-home mom, interruptions by other adults may be exactly what you're missing. A part-time job at home could provide welcome mental stimulation, and ease the stresses of a one-budget household. Imagine dinners out, a luxury vacation, college savings, or more money to spend on gifts for the holidays.
If you're a student, we know you need cash. The trouble is that you already have a full schedule of classes and study, a schedule that fluctuates. What if you could earn money with your computer from your dorm room or at home in the summer? No more begging the fast-food boss to let you off for your family vacation or to volunteer at the hospital.
Cash, career, convenience, necessity. No matter what your situation, background or monetary goals, "Will Work from Home" can be your solution.
We could list all the different jobs you could do or businesses you could start from home, but that wouldn't be a guide. It would be a doorstop!
Instead, we're going to show you four proven paths that can lead you home to work. You'll be able to adapt one of these paths to your own situation, especially as we're going to give you the advice, resources, inspirational stories, and checklists you'll need for the journey.
First Path: ASK THE BOSS
If you're working and satisfied with your job, but not its location, this could be your easiest path home. All you have to do is convince your boss that you can be just as effective, maybe even more so, working from your spare bedroom as your third-floor cubicle. Not good at asking? You'll find step-by-step directions in chapter three for writing and presenting a professional "Will Work from Home" proposal, what to say to overcome common objections, and strategies to make the transition easier.
Second Path: FILL A NEED
Many employers are looking for individuals who can work from home: people to answer calls, provide customer service, give technical assistance, or perform virtual office tasks, such as handling administrative tasks. There are also companies, law firms, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations willing to set workers up at home. You could be their next hire. We'll supply you with leads on how to find employers that are hiring today, and tell you how to find others.
Third Path: BE YOUR OWN BOSS
Obviously, if you're running the show, you get to say where you work, right? This could be the right time to launch a small business based on a professional skill or personal passion, hobby, craft, or service that you can provide. It doesn't have to be a huge venture requiring a large capital investment and a five-year plan. It might be something as simple as planning children's birthday parties for busy moms, or driving seniors to doctors' appointments. This chapter will have you thinking like an entrepreneur and acting like a business owner. We'll show you ways to start a business with a little cash and a lot of confidence.
Fourth Path: BECOME A DIRECT SALES PRO
Think beyond Avon, Mary Kay, and Tupperware. The number of companies selling their products and services outside of stores, in people's homes, or online has mushroomed tremendously. If you've got a passion for wine, spa treatments, or educational toys, just to name a few products, there's a company out there that wants to put your passion to work. Start-up costs are usually small, and you can set your own hours and schedule. You'll read profiles of many of these companies and advice from successful direct sales professionals. Direct sales can be a second job to fund a fantastic vacation or pay off debts. Or, it could be your breakthrough career -- the one that gives your life meaning, satisfaction, and bucks for your bank account.
Each path has its pros and cons. So does working from home in general. It's a lifestyle for many, but not everyone. Before you take the plunge, here are some things to consider.
There are obvious advantages to working from home. Here's what people who are happy at home have to say:
Having your job and life in the same place is more convenient and comfortable. Think sweat clothes and sneakers instead of heels and business suits.
You have greater control over your schedule. No more coffee at ten o'clock in the break room, listening to whining coworkers. Mail a package, sit on the deck, do some yoga, take a bath whenever you want or need a break.
No commute. Your workday can be shorter and more productive. A walk up the stairs or down the hall to your home office is certainly less stressful than thirty to forty-five minutes on the interstate. Instead of driving home, you could be exercising, calling friends, or helping the kids with their homework.
Your career could improve. You might have more time and energy for professional associations and networking because of a shorter workday.
You'll save money on gas, car maintenance, and parking fees, not to mention business clothes, lunches out, and gifts for coworkers.
You may be able to work part-time, full-time, or during nonbusiness hours. If there's no set time you have to be at your desk, you can work weekends or nights in order to reduce or eliminate the need for child care.
You can participate more in your community as a volunteer or go to a doctor without clearing it with your boss. You can be home with a sick child, travel more with your spouse, and possibly relocate without changing jobs.
A virtual job can widen your career prospects, particularly if you live in a remote area or in a high-unemployment market.
It feels great when you have more control over your life or more cash in the bank. Saving time and money while gaining peace of mind can be a perfect working solution.
The arrangement is not for everyone. Working from home is still work. No one makes $1,000 a week stuffing envelopes -- that's a scam. A job at home usually demands the same level of professionalism, focus, and determination as one at the office, sometimes even more.
You'll need to convert some space in your home to an office, and equip it with the technology to communicate with the outside world. You'll also have to learn how to avoid home distractions during working hours and ignore business calls during family time.
You may still need to pay for child care because professional work and toddlers don't mix.
You could lose health-care insurance, vacation, and other benefits, as many jobs from home are for contract workers. This is not as big a drawback if your income is secondary to the household budget. It's a much larger consideration if you're the sole breadwinner.
If you're a contractor, consultant, or small-business owner, you'll need to keep good financial records for tax purposes. The upside is you'll be able to write off business expenses.
If you are an employee with benefits, being at home might slow down your career advancement. This doesn't have to be, but you'll need to know ways to remind your boss that you're working just as hard, or harder, than your coworkers in the office.
Finally, it takes a certain kind of personality to work successfully from home. It helps to be a self-starter and problem solver.
Managing your time and work flow will be your responsibility. If you're an extrovert who thrives on relationships, or works best with input from team members, being at home by yourself isn't going to feel comfortable. It might even make you miserable.
One person's reward may be another's stumbling block. The quiet of home might be a haven to one and sheer boredom to another. Your chances of success improve when you know what's important to you and have realistic expectations. Every new job or life change has a learning curve and some trade-offs. Your job search will require some introspection and assessment, goal-setting, research, and effort, but you don't have to do it alone.
We're going to be with you as you plan and pursue your journey. We'll tell you what to pack and what to expect. We've mapped the curves, charted the hills, seen the views, and marked the rough spots. We know where to find the rest stops and where to turn for help. It's your path and your life, but everyone needs encouragement. You'll find lots of it in the stories and advice from the seasoned hikers who have already made their way home to work.
Whether you choose a quick and easy path or a longer one, you'll be able to find useful directions and the practical resources you need here to help you make every step.
ACTION STEPS?Home Is Where the Job Is
1. Buy a notebook and write down why you want or need to work from home. What would be your ideal dream job? How many hours would you work and when? How much would you make? How would it make you feel? How do you envision it improving your life? What would you do with the money? Be specific about describing your dreams. It will make your job search later more focused and personal. You'll be able to eliminate those options that don't fit what you want.
2. Perform a candid personality assessment. Will you be bored working alone? Will you be distracted by people, things, or chores in your home? Will you be motivated to get to your desk and stay focused until tasks are complete? Be honest with yourself.
3. Connect with one new resource every day. Commit to working on your goal daily by reaching out to one new resource, which could be a web-site, a group, or an individual. Call someone you know who works from home and ask about the highs and lows. Reach message boards in chat rooms of your favorite social networking websites to learn about how other people are making money at home. The idea is to seek new information every day. The daily commitment reinforces that you're truly determined to make this goal a reality.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Visit her Web site at www.womenforhire.com.