Clad in business casual attire, Conrad Flynn sits in the cozy office of his Hauto home, chatting with a visitor as he keeps an eye on the clock.
Flynn, 27, and the owner of Concur New Media, a marketing agency, is one of a rising number of local people who work from home.
The number of Carbon County folks who work at home, either self-employed or telecommuting, increased from 1.7 percent (430 people over age 16) to 3 percent (760 people) between 2000 and 2011, according to U.S. Census data provided by the Pennsylvania State Data Center.
Statewide, the numbers grew to a much lesser extent, from 3 percent (164,646) to 3.80 percent (220,246) during the same time period.
Aside from being able to start the workday in flannel pajamas and bunny slippers, there are a number of reasons more people are working from home.
"Hurray for technology," says Kerry Hannon, an expert in careers, personal finance and retirement, and the author of the recently published AARP's Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.
"Laptops and speedy Internet connections have made working from a home office seamless these days. Plus, conference calling has become standard practice," Hannon says. "Just remember to mute out the barking dog. Depending on the type of company you're working for, face-to-face interaction is not as all-important as it once was either. That said, virtual meetings via Skype or Facetime make it possible to eyeball one another as well, if need be."
Our ever-evolving technology is just one factor in the increase, she says.
"The rise in numbers, of course, is more than technology. Company downsizing efforts, not only staff, but office space in recent years, has made it necessary for many workers to telecommute," Hannon says. "Moreover, the rise of the contract or stint worker, in general makes working from a home office standard fare for many workers these days."
While figures were not available to see which age group or gender is most likely to work from home, Hannon says older folks would likely find the strategy most to their liking.
Her research "indicates this is a growing arena for 50-plus workers, who may still be looking for full-time positions, but are taking on contract work they can do from home as consultants and so forth. For retirees, these work at home arrangements are increasingly popular, too. These positions allow them to take on work that can stave off dipping into retirement accounts and bring in income to cover living expenses while affording them the luxury of not having to commute and have flexible hours in many cases. Physically, they're more appealing."
Working from home is appealing to women, too, because they are often caring for children or elderly parents.
"Women tend to take on jobs with flexible hours and contract positions and to work in smaller firms that are less structured and old-school in needing to see bodies in seats," Hannon says. "This is particularly true for women, who are still raising children or caring for aging parents, and are in the workforce, but working in these kinds of part-time or flex-hour work arrangements in order to keep all the plates spinning."
Secrets to successful home work
Flynn, a young entrepreneur with a background in radio, is watching the clock because he believes that structure is crucial to successfully working from home. Sticking to a schedule is one of a lengthy list of rules he lives by. Others include dressing every morning in business appropriate clothing, making daily to-do lists, and not answering the telephone unless it's a call that is expected or scheduled.
The biggest challenge was "absolutely finding the discipline to stick with the schedule," he said.
The rules work well for Flynn's business, which is not one that involves walk-in customers. Concur New Media utilizes social media and other Internet marketing tools in order to help businesses cultivate meaningful relationships with customers. He launched the "boutique marketing firm" four years ago. It has four full-time employees in addition to several part-time and contract workers. Flynn puts in about 65 hours a week.
Working from home works well for Flynn, and for his business.
Flynn analyzes his time to see when each task would reap the best outcome. In an office, schedules tend to be set by employers, and there would be interruptions and distractions to deal with.
"It does take a lot of discipline, but I try to get the maximum efficiency out of any activity," he says. "Being able to set my own schedule gives me the most control and ability to do each activity in the time and space that is the ideal for me."
But that also means not being able to call it a day at 5 p.m. Flynn has what he calls "magic time," the period in which his energy peaks, and he gets the most work done. For him, that's between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.
"I can get more stuff done before 9 a.m. than I can do in the rest of the day," he says.
Dressing each morning in business attire, even when he's working alone, sets the mood.
"You feel and carry yourself differently, and that comes across when you're on the phone or writing an email," he says.
There are many advantages to working from home, Hannon says.
"You save on the transportation costs of commuting, meals out, paying a dog walker to take Sassy for a spin midday, and even work clothes for some folks. Work from home also allows you more control of your working hours and environment. For me, that means more gets done, for example, I have less distractions from co-workers and endless meetings. And I get more done in a shorter period of time with less stress," she says.
"The challenges are staying focused and disciplined and perhaps missing out on the office camaraderie, networking opportunities, and even promotions in some cases the out of sight, out of mind mentality can creep in," Hannon says.
What are good bets for work-at-home jobs?
"Consulting and any job that is primarily computer-driven, say research or grant-writing, medical record transcription, translation, call-in customer service reps," Hannon says.
She advises people to avoid any field that "requires face-to-face interaction, managing other workers, fundraising, sales and so on."