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Aided By Laptops, Internet, VoIP, Telework Gains In Popularity

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Aided By Laptops, Internet, Telework Gains In Popularity

March 6, 2005

By Diane E. Lewis

For six years, Pathlore Software Corp. of Ohio wooed Lee Maxey, but each time he turned down the company's job offers. Maxey, 41, didn't want to uproot his family to Pathlore's headquarters in Columbus.

But last year, Maxey finally accepted a position as Pathlore's chief learning officer. The perk that won him over? The firm said he could telework from the comfort of his Duxbury home.

Steve Thomas, the chief executive and president of Pathlore, said the learning management software firm realized that it would have better luck attracting the talent it needed if it extended its recruiting net to include the entire country, and offered new hires a chance to work from home.

"We need executives who really know the e-learning industry," said Thomas. "But you can't always find them in Columbus. The truth is that by the time someone reaches the level of experience that we are seeking, they're established and they don't want to move around. So, we made a compromise."

Pathlore joins a growing number of US firms now luring executives and top professionals by offering them telework, a work style typically offered to lower-wage employees who don't have to be on-site to be effective.

One-third of Pathlore's 160-member staff are remote workers, including six key executives and about a dozen managers.

Thomas Miller, a senior consultant at The Dieringer Research Group Inc., a national market research firm, says many of the telecommuters at mid to large firms are key professionals.

"The vast majority are executives and managers," he said. "The reason for this is simple: Telework really took off with the advent of the laptop computer and the Internet."

The two technologies allowed managers to "steal" a day here and there at home to concentrate on work or avoid office distractions and gain enough flexible time to deal with family or personal concerns, Miller said.

Overall, the number of US teleworkers, including the self-employed, increased to 44.4 million in 2004, up 7.5 percent over the preceding year, reports the International Telework Association and Council. The biggest increase in telework occurred at midsized firms with under 1,000 workers. Within that segment, the practice grew by 57 percent, according to a study conducted for the council by Dieringer.

Virginia Garcia, 33, of Miami, a senior analyst who works for TowerGroup in Needham, works from home two or three weeks a month. Then, she travels to the firm's headquarters for meetings.

Garcia was recruited by TowerGroup five years ago.

"The company has experience in hiring outside the Massachusetts market," she said. "As a global company, it has to have the flexibility to go out and recruit people from different regional markets."

The arrangement with the Massachusetts research advisory firm allows Garcia to drop in on her 10- and 8-year-old children at school and interact with her 3 year-old.

"When TowerGroup recruited me, the flexibility was very appealing," she said. "It was appealing not to have to commute one or two hours per day."

Maxey supervises a 60-member group and participates in cybermeetings and conference calls from his home office in a renovated barn. Like Garcia, he says working from home allows him to interact with his children.

"I take the kids to school in the morning and I see them at lunch," said Maxey, whose wife, Heather, is vice president of interactive products at IDC in Framingham. "One of the decisions my wife and I made was that I would work at home to be available if something happened."

Teleworking executives are not tied to their homes. Most, like Garcia and Maxey, travel frequently, logging thousands of air miles per year. From Tuesday through Thursday, for example, Maxey visits clients around the country.

The ability to communicate remotely - and in real time - would be impossible without broadband, e-mail, and other new technology, say analysts.

Not surprising, the number of high-speed lines in the United States rose to about 30 million since 1999, up from just under 5 million, according to Business 2.0 magazine. Additionally, 93 percent of US homes have broadband, up from 79 percent in 2001.

"Most teleworkers are relying on broadband as opposed to just needing a telephone or computer," said Brooke Schulz , a spokeswoman for Vonage Holdings Corp ., a New Jersey provider of telephone service that works over high-speed Internet. That means teleworkers are using instant messaging, phones, and e-mail with the help of broadband connections like DSL or cable modem, which offer faster connections.

Dieringer's Miller agrees. "Broadband helped accelerate the acceptance (of telework) even further," he said. "Meanwhile, the idea of networked teams that can draw on employee expertise at a distance has also prospered over the past five to seven years, again largely catalyzed by the Internet."

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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