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Sunday, June 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Carol Kleiman / Syndicated columnist
Telecommuters' productivity is high

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Hallie W. Johnson has been telecommuting for 11 years — almost before working from home became a vital part of work/life balance.

Today, Johnson, who lives in Lake Forest, Ill., is a global manager for GE Healthcare, the medical division of General Electric Co. based in Waukesha, Wis. She worked every day in the office when she was hired by GE, but four years later, that changed.

"In 1993, I was promoted to service manager, a job that required me to be in the field most of the time," said Johnson, who has a bachelor-of-science degree in mechanical engineering. "My territory was Boston and I lived in New Hampshire, so I began telecommuting from home five days a week and coming into the office for meetings."

Since Johnson has been telecommuting, she's been promoted every two years and has gotten "good" raises.

In 2000, Johnson, and her husband, Paul, a general sales manager for GE, moved to Chicago with their two children, now 10 and 7. And she was offered another promotion.

"My husband is on the road most of the time and I didn't want to move again, so I worked out another telecommuting plan with my manager, established a home office and only go to headquarters when necessary," she said.

And in 2002, when she was promoted, Johnson, who has four direct reports, reduced her telework schedule to four days a week. "I decided my children needed more parental involvement, so I work from home three days a week and go to headquarters one day a week," she said.

Technology and her employer's support have facilitated Johnson's ability to have a rewarding professional and personal life. "Being able to telecommute is terrific," she said. "I have fewer interruptions working from home than I had in the office. I can go to all doctors' appointments for my children and to school functions. I have time to cook, garden, knit, design clothes and to exercise. And I'm more productive both for work and at home than if I worked in an office.

"If it weren't for telecommuting, I might not be working at all."

Johnson's experiences with telecommuting are echoed in a new study titled, "When the Workplace Is Many Places: The Extent and Nature of Off-Site Work Today." It was conducted by WFD Consulting, a work/life consulting firm based in Watertown, Mass.
The study of 2,057 adults — employees, managers and family members — was commissioned by the American Business Collaboration, a group of top U.S. companies that works with WFD to improve work/life balance for their employees. Research shows that "contrary to popular belief, those who work off-site are more productive and better able to manage their time."

Another myth dispelled: Interruptions from family were reported as infrequent. Interruptions from co-workers were reported by office workers as frequent.

Also: "Although only one in eight managers nationwide has received any training on how to manage off-site employees, 92 percent of 95 managers who did have training report that it significantly helped them to manage off-site workers better," said Amy Richman, senior consultant at WFD.

One of the reasons for the survey, according to Richman, who did the study with Karen Noble and Arlene Johnson, is that technology has changed the way work is done. "We found that 83 percent of employees experience off-site work in some form, but we still are managing them as if all workers are sitting in the same office," said Richman, who has a bachelor-of-arts degree in psychology and a doctorate in measurement and evaluation.

Employers who embrace telecommuting, says Richman, "can maximize their productivity and increase the work/life balance of employees. It's a great retention tool, saves time and increases employees' focus and concentration."

And that's no myth.

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

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