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Telecommute: What traffic?: Workers with high-tech skills stay home, bypassing urban sprawl and being paid well, too
[January 22, 2006]

Telecommute: What traffic?: Workers with high-tech skills stay home, bypassing urban sprawl and being paid well, too

(Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jan. 22--CELEBRATION -- Determined to get away from snow and freezing temperatures, Bert FitzGibbons told his boss a few years ago he was leaving New York -- with or without his engineering job.

Fortunately, his boss let him keep his position. Like many telecommuters in Central Florida, he works for a company based up North.

"I don't find it hard to work at home," FitzGibbons said. "I don't have the interruptions I have at the office. . . . [The home environment] is a lot more controllable. That's a very big plus to me."

Warm weather and the overall high quality of life in Florida have lured workers with high-tech skills such as FitzGibbons to the Orlando area. Residents are drawn to telecommuting because urban sprawl and traffic congestion make driving to work a pain. Also, some telecommuters said, northern companies offer higher pay than most local firms do.

Nearly 12 percent of Florida's salaried work force, or 850,000 people, do most of their work from home, according to Joanne Pratt, a consultant who focuses on how evolving technology changes the way people work.

There likely is a higher percentage of telecommuters in Celebration than elsewhere in Central Florida because of its remote location compared to other Orlando suburbs, said Barb Nefer, 42, who designs online classes and books Disney cruises from her Celebration home.

Also, most telecommuting jobs tend to be higher paying, and Celebration is a wealthier community, she added.

"Celebration is loaded with telecommuters," Nefer said. Companies that support telecommuting, such as the one Nefer works for, have a modern outlook, she said.

"Some companies are geared toward modern technology," said Nefer, who works for Panduit Corp. of Tinley Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb. "[Others] are just so used to having a bunch of employees sitting in cubicles at their computers that they don't realize people can do the exact same thing from home."

The corporate culture of such a company often includes not only allowing employees to telecommute but also a liberal stance on day care and flexible hours, said Trent Flood, spokesman for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission.

"Telecommuting is probably consistent with the work and play [philosophy]," Flood said. "The quality of life goes up . . . if you provide different opportunities for your employees."

But it can also work for Orlando area companies, in addition to those out of state. Because of traffic congestion, telecommuting is attractive to residents in remote communities such as Celebration, where the commute to downtown Orlando is "killer," Nefer said.

Telecommuting on the whole makes life easier and more flexible, she added. Plus, she said it's more conducive to creativity.

"[Telecommuting] is better when that moment of inspiration hits," Nefer said. "[Working in an office] puts you in a box -- that Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m." box.

In the future, some employees who telecommute might be persuaded to leave their current employers to work for a new business on Innovation Way, a high-tech corridor that Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty wants to put roughly midway between the University of Central Florida and Orlando International Airport. Boosters say it could bring more than 40,000 new jobs to the region.

Telecommuters might be more likely to take such positions if the jobs offer them the option to work from home at least part of the time, experts say.

But this will happen only if the management style of these companies accommodates the telecommuting culture, said Foard Jones, who chairs the management department in the UCF school of business.

"If you can give people flexibility, you can cast a larger net and catch better employees," Jones said. "Usually . . . [telecommuters] can manage their time well and tend to be more productive. They're not the type of employee that requires supervision."

Although formal marketing of Innovation Way to high-tech companies is about a year away, planners of the corridor know they want to attract companies that support telecommuting as well as traditional office-based jobs, said Linda Chapin, former Orange County chairman and a proponent of controlled growth.

"The creative class are knowledgeable, high-tech workers. Those are the type of people who telecommute. Innovation Way is going to be looking for knowledgeable workers," Chapin said.

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