Originally created 07/03/97

Telecommuting takes hold



Larry Madsen has had to teach his kids to knock at the study door and he's weaned his neighbors off the idea that they can drop by at all hours. But after seven years of working at home for AT&T, he's a confirmed telecommuter.

"You have to get used to it," said Mr. Madsen, a sales manager in suburban Salt Lake City and father of eight. "But I love the freedom of having my office here at home."

Armed with high-tech gadgets and the growing acceptance of companies, 11 million Americans are telecommuting at least one day a month - a 30 percent increase in the last two years, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The survey by Telecommute America, a public-private telecommuting advocacy group, didn't include people like Mr. Madsen, who works full-time at home but no longer has a corporate office. Including those like him who have "virtual offices," the ranks of telecommuters are even higher.

That's not to say it's a universally beloved idea. Many managers remain highly skeptical of loosening old-time control over workers. Unions say that the change raises health, safety and other concerns.

But workplaces, including those run by the federal government, are increasingly interested in formally promoting telecommuting as a way to boost productivity, save on real estate and benefit good workers in a competitive labor market.

"We've heard from employees that the flexibility that teleworking provides them certainly has been a benefit to them," said Sue Sears, project director for telecommuting at AT&T.

For Mr. Madsen, that means being able to talk to his children - ages 1 to 21 - after school if work allows a breather. And it also means being able to work at dawn or late at night if he has to.

One in four Fortune 1,000 companies now have employees who regularly telecommute either part-time or full-time, according to a study released this week by KPMG, a human resources consulting firm.

President Clinton, as well, has given the issue a push. Currently up to 25,000 federal workers - or about 1.5 percent of the federal workforce - nationwide telecommute, and the government is aiming to have 15 percent working from home by 2002, said Wendell Joice of the General Services Administration, the government's landlord.