An estimated 20 million Americans work from home at least part of the time. It's called "teleworking" or "telecommuting."
Workers love it, even though they typically have to supply their own computers, telephones, fax machines, and office furniture, sometimes at a cost of thousands of dollars. It's worth it to be able to stay home, since many of them had been driving 100, 200 or 300 hours a year back and forth to the office, often in rage-inducing traffic. Telecommuting employees do not waste time on office politics and chit-chat. They spend less money on lunch, and they get extra quality time each day to spend with their families.
Too much time, in some cases, what with a husband or wife, an elderly parent, or the family dogs under foot. Companies expect workers to stick to business, not use the hours to babysit or run errands. But it doesn't always work out that way. And yes, some telecommuters have been known to type away on their home computers in their jammies.
Still, employers are coming to appreciate telework. Workers call in sick less often. And a teleworking option is an attractive recruiting plum when companies are looking to fill key jobs.
The biggest obstacle to the growth of telecommuting is trust. Bosses, traditionally, like to keep an eye on their subordinates to be sure they're productive and paying attention. Telework enthusiasts counter that lazy employees are going to be slackers no matter where they work. They say telecommuters work harder in order to prove they are earning the trust that supervisors are placing in them.
Jobs like writing, bookkeeping, and Web designing have proved ideally suited for telecommuting. On the other hand, no one has yet figured out a way for surgeons, stevedores, and security guards to work from home.