The wind blew hard over the Rio Grande and into the Spanish courtyard of the hotel. Bright aqua blue water glowed eerily against the black sky and subtle darkness of the grounds, its surface a riotous dance of ripples. The hot air picked up, blowing the tops of the palm, pecan, and citrus trees so loudly that the soft, drifting piano music (piped in as it was through selectively placed speakers) was barely audible. The San Antonio based studio where I work had a long day of special-event shooting down in Laredo – 3 hours south of our city and a whole cultural and language barrier between us. We are living in a digital age where photography yields instant results and our subjects choose their portrait right away on our laptop. We log in remotely to the main studio computer which stores our customer database and accounting software and immediately enter their order details, calculate their totals, and record their payment preferences.
          The world is a vastly changed place these last 10 years. Computer technology allows us to satisfy our clients in this wholly separate city just as easily as if they’d come to our studio in person. It’s no wonder, then, that people working in fields completely unrelated to direct customer interaction are able to work out of the office. Even banking institutions or telemarketing companies are turning to telecommuting. There were 4 million telecommuters in the US in 1995 compared to the 24.1 million people who work from home at least one day per month now (16.5 million of which are self employed). This number represents one-fifth of the workforce and is estimate to rise to 100 million US workers by 2010. Salary.com predicts more businesses will expand their telecommuting programs with telecommuting taking the number two slot on its "Top 10 Salary Trends for 2006" list.
          While it may still be odd for some of us to picture our insurance agent or investment banker sipping coffee in their PJ’s and working from their home office – that reality is becoming more and more prevalent for a variety of reasons. Companies are saving their employees money on gas or other transportation, not to mention the time they’d be traveling on the road (commuters report 1 – 3 hours each day is spent driving to and from work, not including driving to a restaurant for lunch). These seemingly savvy and caring employers also happen to be pocketing record savings on reduced office space. In fact, Dow Chemical reported that administrative costs have dropped 50% annually (15% of which was attributed to commercial real estate costs) and productivity increased by 32.5%.
          Janice, a promotions staffing manager in San Antonio, does all of her work from the comfort of her home office. Occasionally, her job requires her to travel. She picks up her laptop and is able to monitor regions as near to home as Houston and as far away as Montana. She also enjoys being able to easily “work more on a task after dinner. It's much easier to walk into the other room late at night as opposed to driving to an office.”
          A coder and auditor for military physicians, Julie just relocated to Maryland to rejoin the conventional workforce. She said she is “looking forward to leaving the work at work.” Though she has taken a job with more opportunities and better pay, she already misses the convenience and comfort working from home provided. For her, the biggest perk was having the freedom to play sporadically with her dogs throughout the day.
          Every up has a down, unfortunately. Most of the telecommuters I spoke with stated that they often found themselves against deadlines with a lot of work that still had to be done, causing them to work into the evenings and through weekends instead of being able to spend quality time with loved ones or go out with friends. Julie says that time management turned out to be a much larger problem than she anticipated, “We all romanticize that it will be wonderful, but sometimes the reality is that you have been sitting in front of the computer for hours and not completed a thing!”
          A telecommuter in Austin, Texas said the biggest drawback to telecommuting for her was the lack of interaction with people in person. “I missed the proverbial ‘water cooler’ conversations, the inside jokes, the human element. I felt my life was lacking dimension in that way.” In spite of the isolation, she did enjoy the flexible hours, the ability to work from anywhere she wanted to go, and not having to worry about traffic jams. With perks such as working in your PJs as the number one positive response people gave for what they like about telecommuting, it seems like a pretty fair trade.
          As a web developer for the San Antonio Spurs, I regularly worked from home 1 – 2 days per week updating website content, interacting with fans, and building PR photo databases. The rest of the time I was sitting in my frosty cubicle in the arena 1 floor above an ice skating rink doing essentially the same thing and attending meetings. This was about 3 years ago, so the biggest obstacle to telecommuting (aside from a few mandatory face to face meetings and special events which require a warm body to cover them) was the lack of reliable and fast network infrastructure between my home and workplace. Of course, grounded and wireless networks have improved dramatically in the last few years. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting in a breezy courtyard, enjoying the tremendous tussling of wind in my hair and relating the swift data transfer between two cities 150 miles apart using the most basic and easy to configure of computer interfaces.

Useful websites:
mobileoffice.about.com/ (tips on weaning your boss off your physical presence)
www.ecommute.net/ (the positive impact on telecommuting and our world)
www.windowsnetworking.com/articles_tutorials/Using-Remote-Desktop-Windows-XP-Pro.html (how to set up a remote desktop connection like the one mentioned in this article)
www.GoToMyPC.com/ (access your computer through a web browser from anywhere)

Read more articles here.
Read more of my writing here.