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Out of the office [The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill. :: ]
[July 13, 2014]

Out of the office [The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill. :: ]

(Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 13--Holly Gasperi enjoys her leisurely commute to work every day. She walks from her upstairs bedroom downstairs to an office on the main level of her home in suburban Cleveland.

In 2010 when she decided to leave Bloomington, her Country Financial managers wanted to keep her on staff so they offered her the option to work from home full- time. She was among the more than 13.4 million people who worked at home or outside the office at least once a week that year -- an increase of more than 40 percent from a decade earlier, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census.

About one-fourth of home-based workers were in management, business and financial occupations. There was a 67 percent increase in home-based work for employees of private companies from 1999 to 2010.

But working a job outside the office may not be the best fit for all employees. A remote worker needs to have the discipline and motivation to stay productive outside the office, and the ability to find a proper work-life balance. Those who don't may be better in an office environment.

"I don't think it is for everybody. You have to be very disciplined. I work in my home office when I'm in that office," said Gasperi, a project manager in the market planning department. "People will say 'You are so lucky to work at home' but I probably work more here than in an office." Country Financial began a remote-work policy in 2009, said Shelly Prehoda, director of corporate compensation and HR systems. Generally, if it works for the position, people can request to work from home after three months with the company and the decision requires the approval of a manager and Prehoda.

"It was primarily to retain people who might have left us," Prehoda said.

Of about 3,000 Country Financial employees, about 200 of them work remotely, she said. Many of those who work remotely do customer service for call centers or specialize in underwriting.

The company benefits because remote employees seem to be more productive and can work better independently.

"You eliminate the commute and you eliminate interruptions," Prehoda said, adding that some employees in its Atlanta, Ga. office have a 90-minute commute each way.

Gasperi agreed.

"That half-hour between meetings I get a lot done that I couldn't get done in the building," Gasperi said. "My best piece of advice for people who work from home is to get ready for work everyday. It keeps you disciplined. Having a physical space that's separate for your work is key. I couldn't do this at the dining room table, I would get too distracted." Matthew Sheep, an Illinois State University associate professor of management, said it is important for people to find work-life balance. Some people blur life and work together and then it seems like they are always connected to their jobs, he said.

"To enable people to be mobile I think is going to be preferred by most. If a good idea strikes you at 8 p.m., you want to be able to work on it at home," Sheep said "(But) some people might view it that they are never really away from work; that it is always with them. Technology has upsides and downsides." For Gasperi, who stays in touch with colleagues through video or phone meetings, and returns to the office a few times each quarter, one tech-related challenge is missing out on the face-to-face conversations people have before and after meetings.

"I'll try to call someone after the meeting and ask if anything was said or discussed after-hours," Gasperi said.

For Douglas Reynolds and Patricia Evans-Reynolds, the freedom technology offers is a key benefit. The husband-wife team owns drcsoft, a social media and marketing company that offers web design, business analysis and other services.

They have an office at the Launch Pad, a co-working space in downtown Bloomington, work from home and at local coffee shops and restaurants.

"We have our own hours and structure but we have the flexibility to change our scenery," Evans-Reynolds said.

They bring a laptop, cell phone and iPad wherever they go and are ready to work.

"As long as we've got Internet," Reynolds added.

They might spend a few hours at one shop before moving on to a different business. If they have a conference call, they might work from home where it is quiet. If they have a meeting with a client, they may meet in a conference room at the Launch Pad office.

"I can come in here and focus a lot better with all of this noise in the background than I can in the quiet," Reynolds said while working at the Coffee Hound in downtown Bloomington. "We try to respect the business owners. We know they want to turn tables, so we don't spend all day there." Lance Ruppert, an agronomy marketing and implementation manager for Growmark in Bloomington, worked remotely the first 15 years of his career in various sales jobs.

Now, he's based in an office and manages a team of six employees who work outside the office. But he said he is much more productive and creative when he is working remotely.

"I've worked with other people who need that structure of an office to be effective. They need that to be successful; I don't need that structure as much," Ruppert said.

But ISU's Sheep cautioned it's not for everyone.

"I do think it is generally becoming more of a norm but I still think it can't be viewed simplistically," he said. "It has to be understood that different individuals will do better at this than others." ___ (c)2014 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Visit The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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