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Are workers really losing the work-from-home perk?

News last week that Yahoo! will be withdrawing work-from-home privileges from employees this spring  is a good peg for taking a look at the prevalence of telecommuting among your audience’s employers.

Working from home

Photographer Dave Morris, aka Flickr user Daveybot, shares his home workspace with Lyra, one of his cats.

Some Internet pundits wonder if the Yahoo! ban on telecommuting is a back-door way of prompting resignations in lieu of layoffs; others point out the irony of a firm with a web-based product (including its video-enabled Yahoo! Messenger service) insisting that in-person, physical contact is the best way to foster collaboration and brainstorming.

Whatever the motivation, the notion that a Silicon Valley company will be forcing workers to show up to its physical campus is certainly drawing heated reaction.  And just at a moment when spiking gasoline prices — some at record levels, as this Los Angeles Times article indicates — may have many workers wondering if they can negotiate a work-from-home deal to save on commuting costs.

Indeed, a recent study released by the Texas A&M Transporation Institute found that  found that commuters wasted $121 billion in fuel and time due to traffic congestion, according to the group’s Urban Mobility Report.

That’s about $818 per commuter (not in overall transportation costs, just those incurred due to extra time built in to offset congestions and traffic jams) including nearly 3 billion in extra fuel.    The consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas responded to the Texas A&M report with its own (PDF) analysis of the state of telecommuting; it notes that fewer than 3 percent of the non-farm workforce call home their primary place of work (not to be confused with those permitted occaisional telecommuting), but that’s up 73 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Why not poll your area’s largest employers about the percentage of their workforce permitted to work from home, which jobs are considered conducive to telecommuting, what work-from-home expenses, such as phone and Internet, employers are paying and how workers might best negotiate at least a couple of days per week off the road?  You also might ask what would get the privilege rescinded.

According to Forbes, about 30 million people are working from a home office at least one day a week, with numbers rising.   And another Lone Star State survey, this one from the University of Texas-Austin, finds that employees with “authority and status” are likely to work from home, and that it results in longer hours rather than work-life balance.

Telework.gov outlines the policies for federal workers, who have suprisingly lenient flex-time and work-from-home rules.  The Telework Coalition, an advocacy group, may also be a resource.

A couple of additional angles or worthy sidebars:

Work-from-home scams.  From the generations-old envelope-stuffing schemes to mystery-shopper deals, fraudsters prey on those who may be desperate for work that accomodates their family obligations, disability, limited money for commuting or other reasons hurdles.  Check with area law enforcement, your state’s attorney general, the postal service’s fraud division and consumer goups about what sort of work-at-home scams are making the rounds in your area.

IRS rules about home-office deductions.  This one might be tempting but experts generally say it’s so fraught with pitfalls, as well as being an audit red-flag, that it might be well to skip it.  Here’s the IRS publication on the home-office write-off, note the exclusive-use requirement and other strict provisions.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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