work from homeCan I tell you a secret? I'm writing this article from the comfort of my own living room, with my feet propped up on an ottoman and pillows resting at my sides. I am -- for the record -- wearing actual clothes, not pajamas. But I'm not here because I'm working through a sick day. It's because ever since I had my first child nearly 18 years ago, I've been able to work from home at least some of the time.

I've always felt fortunate to be able to do this, as not every job can be done outside of the office and not every boss is quite as accommodating as mine were. However, recent research suggests that telecommuting's popularity is surging: According to statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, there are currently 2.9 million telecommuters in the U.S -- a 66% increase over just seven years.

The benefits to working from home are many. Aside from having the flexibility to pick your kids up from school or check on your elderly parents (if they live nearby), there is a tremendous savings factor. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, developed this personal savings calculator, told me that cutting back on a 30-mile round-trip commute and working from home just one day a week could save someone $794 per year. Cutting back on that commute five days a week could save a person over $5,000 per year. (Give it a whirl for yourself to see how much money you could save.)

So why aren't more people working from home? For those with jobs, it's a matter of making a good case to your boss (more on that in a bit). But for those who are out of work and looking for a telecommuting job, it comes down to one word: scams. "There are an average of 70 [work at home] scams to one real job," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs.com. "I was really shocked at how many scams there are."

The good news is there are ways to cut through all the cons and find something legitimate. Here's what you should do:

• Double-check every link and email address. A good work-from-home scam will try to mimic the web address of a legitimate company, so put your detective skills to work before you click on anything. "You should be seeing the primary domain name," says Fell. "Is it a plain company name, or does it have extended characters? When in doubt, type the company name into Google to see what the real website looks like."

• Be wary of any email addresses you see in a suspicious job posting, too.
"If the company name is hidden, or you're asked to send your resume to a Hotmail or Gmail address, why are they not sending you to a dot-company address?" asks Fell.

• Use a reputable resource.
Particularly good websites include Undress4Success.com, WorkOptions.com and FlexJobs.com. FlexJobs.com actually researches and screens job postings, so it's your best bet for finding a legitimate opportunity. They do charge a small monthly fee, but you can find jobs in a wide range of specialties and types. For example, on the site now are posts for an events coordinator for the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (a full time telecommuting job), a technical support advisor (a part-time telecommuting job) and freelance marketing director position for an e-commerce company.

Finally, Lister told me that 45% of the U.S workforce holds jobs that are compatible with telecommuting at least part time. If you have an office job you love, but would love to do it from home once or twice a week, the key is to craft your pitch so your boss and company can see the benefit they'll derive from the arrangement. Inventory the hours you spend in the office; detail how you use your time. If colleagues distract you two hours a day, and you commute two hours a day, that's four hours a day that could be otherwise spent working. Make your pitch as detailed as possible: Include the schedule you would keep, a plan for how you'll handle interruptions, and your strategy for protecting important data outside the office. The more prepared you are, the more likely it is that your home office will finally start getting some use.

-- With Maggie McGrath




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