Working From Home Great for Moms

The dream of working from home is one that many of us share. No commute. No fancy business attire. No makeup. No pricey lunches. The flexibility sounds heavenly to some.

And employers have gotten hip to this: Telecommuting, a benefit that allows employees to work from home one day a week or more, has grown in popularity. In 1999, only 18 of Fortune's list of best companies to work for offered telecommuting. Today, 79 do. (Incidentally, all 100 of "Working Mother" magazine's best companies offer some form of telecommuting as well.)

As the business world recognizes that some workers, especially women, would welcome the chance to work from home full time -- which isn't usually possible with traditional employment -- a new crop of companies has emerged, focusing on home-based customer service agents. Fortunately, these are legitimate avenues of employment, as opposed to envelope-stuffing scams that promise big bucks for minimal effort.

Alpine Access, LiveOps and Working Solutions are three leaders in employing or contracting such agents. They provide telephone support services to catalog retailers, financial service institutions, airlines and even the IRS. When you call an 800 number to place an order at J.Crew or 1-800 Flowers, there's a good chance the voice that answers is sitting in the comfort of home.

Currently, there are more than 100,000 home-based phone representatives across the United States. By 2010, the research group IDC predicts that number could reach more than 300,000 as more companies recognize the financial savings of using home-based agents instead of operating costly call centers to handle customer service inquiries.

Agents set their own hours, averaging about 20 to 25 hours a week -- whatever works for them. Compensation ranges from $8 to $20 an hour. To qualify, a prospective agent must have high-speed Internet access, a land line to handle calls and a quiet work space. Barking dogs, ringing doorbells and crying babies in the background are forbidden. Training is provided but paid versus unpaid training varies by company.

Stay-at-home moms who earn money in this capacity are thrilled with the career opportunity. There aren't too many other legitimate ways to earn steady money and maintain the flexibility they require. Mom is home when the kids get on and off the school bus. She can add hours to her schedule during the holidays to help cover increased expenses. Or opt to be on during irregular hours -- late nights, midday or any combination.

Additionally, such employment works well for people beyond stay-at-home moms. Becoming a home-based agent appeals to retirees, disabled or physically challenged workers, college students, or those who care for elderly or ill family members.

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