By Margaret Steen, for Yahoo! HotJobs
After facing challenges ranging from the threat of pandemics to snowstorms, employers and employees have taken another look at telecommuting and other "flexplace" work options.
"Bad things are good for telework," says Chuck Wilsker, president and CEO of the Telework Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group. Plus, telecommuting can help both employers and employees save money -- a key selling point when the economy is bad. And improvements in technology have made it easier for workers to collaborate from multiple locations.
"Without technology, we wouldn't have telework," Wilsker says.
The number of Americans who telecommuted at least one day per month increased from about 12.4 million in 2006 to 17.2 million in 2008, according to a survey by WorldatWork, a global human resources organization. However, the survey also found that the number of workers telecommuting almost all the time dropped somewhat.
"We think it has to do with the recession," says Marcia Rhodes, a spokeswoman for WorldatWork. "A lot of employees, even if they have the ability to telework, don't do it because they don't want to be axed."
How can you make telecommuting a success for both you and your employer? Experts offer these tips:
Assess Your Employer's Attitude Toward Telecommuting
Despite its advantages, not all employers support it. "The more progressive and enlightened ones embrace it as a business strategy," Rhodes says. Then there's the other view: "Are you less committed and less loyal because you don't want to come to the office?"
If your employer doesn't believe telecommuting can work, you'll want to take very small steps or perhaps hold off altogether.
Present a Flexplace Plan
Propose a start date and an end date to a trial period, so your boss has a way out if it doesn't work. Spell out the hours you'll be available, how quickly you'll return phone calls and when you'll take your lunch break.
"It gives the employer more of a sense of control," Rhodes says. "For the employee, it helps them understand what the expectations are."
Emphasize the Benefits to Your Employer
Explain how this would help your employer, not just why it would be convenient for you.
"We really see telework as a financial benefit to both employers and employees," Wilsker says. Employers can save money on real estate, and they can benefit from increased productivity and lower turnover. Employees spend less on everything from commute costs to dry cleaning.
Change Your Expectations
The only way your employer will save money on real estate is if you don't insist on having a cubicle or office that's all yours. Offer to share your office workspace, to make the benefits more obvious to your employer.
Be Productive While Telecommuting
You may get more work done away from the office. But there are distractions at home, too. Make sure, for example, that you have childcare in place.
"Telework is not so you can save on daycare costs," Rhodes said. "You can't concentrate with a baby crying in the background."
And be sure to show your employer what you are accomplishing at home -- it's always a good idea to give a boss regular status updates, and that can become even more important when she can't see you busily working.