With a rich Bolognese sauce simmering in a pot in her kitchen — that’s for tonight’s dinner — Cheryl Haga starts her work day. But instead of hopping in her car and driving 40 minutes to her San Francisco office, Haga takes about 10 steps to her dining room table and fires up her laptop.

Haga, San Francisco Bay area director for Lango, a children’s after-school foreign language program, works from her Walnut Creek, Calif., home most of the time. Working at home is a delicate balance between being productive on the job and avoiding distractions like that pile of laundry. It’s all about organization, Haga says.

“I’ve created an action plan for myself, and I prioritize what I am doing each day. I estimate the time each general task is going to take. For example, it’s going to take me five hours to get to all my e-mail on Monday,” Haga says, revealing her multicolored Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheet that tracks what she’s doing now and what she has to do next. She organizes her time in terms of priority and checks off each task once completed.

According to statistics from a recently released report by the U.S. Census Bureau and private studies on the subject, a growing number of people are telecommuting, working from home one or several days a week. The Census Bureau reports that the number of people who work from home increased from 9.5 million to 11.3 million between 1999 and 2005.

“There are radiologists working at home in their pajamas reading X-rays. There are nurses taking calls at home from anxious mothers-to-be. There are a lot of industries going this way even in a wholesale way, not just ad hoc, a couple of days a week,” says Kate Lister author of “Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money From Home.” She says about 2 percent of the American work force currently telecommutes some days a week.

Lister is a champion of working at home. She says if more companies would allow their employees to work at home just a couple days a week, the overall savings nationwide in energy costs and costs associated with absenteeism and turnover would amount to billions of dollars. She also says that individuals would save $2,000 to $7,000 per year, including a total of $15 billion at the gas pumps. Lister argues that workers appear to lead more-balanced lives when they work at home. And, despite the call of a tempting “Oprah” segment on television, workers are more productive.

“It does take an amount of discipline. There is a settling-in period,” Lister says. “But generally, when you get a routine down, you work more when you work at home.”


That’s certainly the case for Reid Mihalko, a sex and relationship expert who runs workshops out of Oakland, Calif. Mihalko says he gets in such a “mad scientist” mode working from home that his partners have had to hide his laptop from him to get him to relax off the clock.

“If you don’t have very good boundaries of when to stop working, work is always calling you,” he says. “That inbox is there and waiting to be checked. Certainly having friends and family and lovers who support my work and, at the same time, support my health and make those judgment calls (to hide the laptop) has been important and helpful for me.”

But those laptops and other advances in technology have made working at home easier. Many office programs allow workers to access inside information from personal computers, and cell phones ease communication in a business setting.

Michael Fee, managing director for Lango and Haga’s supervisor, says aside from Haga’s proven dedication to the company and her strong organizational skills, today’s technology — e-mail, instant messaging and cell phones — allows him to be comfortable with her working from home. He likes to work from home, too.

“So what if we’re not in the same place?” he asks. “It’s not that hard to check in with someone just to communicate and coordinate.”

For Angela Smith, marketing manager at Avastar in San Mateo, Calif., an iPhone and a 3G wireless card are major tools in her arsenal.

Smith works from her Hollister, Calif., home most Fridays. While various household issues come up — the dog needs to relieve himself or the stove needs to be cleaned — none of these distractions keep her from being productive in her home office, she says.

“Working at home is not for everybody. Some people just need to have people around them to keep them motivated and moving forward,” Smith says. “I tend to be the opposite. I like to have people around me, but I can work alone. I work from home, I work from the road, I work from the train.”

Trust that she is working is important between an employee and his or her boss, Smith says. Her boss lives in New York and she assures him she’s keeping busy at home by communicating with him often and meeting specific deadlines. She uses instant messaging software “quite a bit” and keeps all her work correspondence in files in case she or her boss needs to reference them.

“I am actually more focused at home than at work because people aren’t walking into my cubicle or my office,” she says. “In general, I actually tend to forget about all things around me at home because I can get so focused. Before I know it, it is 2 p.m., and I haven’t eaten.”


Martinez, Calif., resident Rachelle Goldenberg, a contract social worker, says setting up a home office dedicated to work was a necessity when she started working from her residence. She also created a routine to keep her motivated to work rather than goof off throughout the day.

“I set a specific time when I start working on projects in the morning. When 8 a.m. rolls around, I start to work,” she says.

Goldenberg says working at home has been a necessity rather than a choice because she was laid off last year. But she says she has been rewarded with more time for her kids and a flexible schedule that allows her to, for example, take a break to watch her son’s swim meet, then work later in the evening.

Meeting with her contractors is no problem, especially with today’s technology.

“I’ve used all sorts of different programs. I do meetings over teleconference and video conference. It’s getting to be very normal, even with people who are working in offices,” she says.

Goldenberg is also highly organized. She creates lists of tasks that need to be done and checks them off when complete.

Author Lister says the most successful at-home workers are systematic with their work, have a home office and never routinely take care of children at home while trying to perform work tasks. There are exceptions: Lister says one woman she studied had three children at home while she worked. She wore a tiara when she was on the clock so her kids knew she was unavailable for play.

Marketing manager Smith says she believes there is a societal shift in the acceptance of working from home one or several days a week. She thinks more businesses will allow workers that freedom once people like her prove it can be done effectively and without much distraction.

“There are so many remote workers doing so many different jobs today,” she says. “It’s no longer about having rear ends in seats.”

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