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Work from home increases in U.S. industries


Working from home is no longer the realm of new moms and start-up companies. Since 2000, the number of individuals working from home has increased to 13.4 million, or 9.5 percent of the workforce, according to a new report by the government. That represents an increase of 11 million people since 1997.

Small business owners and self-employed individuals make up the majority of home workers. According the U.S. Census Bureau, about 45 percent are self-employed, a trend that has increased as business owners attempt to cut costs. The recession has also affected the percentage because the number of overall individuals employed has declined.

Ani Afshar is an example. She owned a jewelry boutique in Lincoln Park for eight years during the 2000s. When the recession dragged on, she moved her business home in 2009.

“Operating the store when there is no one in the street was costly. Now the same people just come to my house,” said Afshar.

Afshar sets up appointments with clients to show jewelry, which allows her to pay more attention to each customer and increases the chance of the sale. However, there’s been a cost to her business. “We don’t get new people as much, but we weren’t getting them at the store anyway,” Afshar said.

The move did affect her business model. Instead of selling mostly jewelry, Iranian-born Afshar switched back to weaving, her original art form. When she closed the store three years ago, she had already booked a show at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2012. Now she works at selling art in addition to retailing her jewelry. She didn’t find the shift too abrupt.

“I’m an artist, so I’ve always done things at home, so the adjustment wasn’t difficult for me. In fact, it’s been good to focus on my art.”

Larger companies also have delved into the at-home work force, allowing more and more full-time employees to work remotely. Melanie Holmes from Manpower Group Inc. says that the increased number of home workers has resulted from employee demands.

“People are asking for it more. Employees know that flexible working is an accommodation at other companies so we have to offer it as an option,” said Holmes.

That flexibility makes for happier employees, she says. Manpower has actually seen an increase in productivity for these employees: “The foundation of this system is trust. When I work at home, I know I have to get my work done because senior management expects it from me. “

A large number of those in the computer, science and engineering industry have been affected by this change. Home-based work in these areas has increased by 69 percent, according to the report. John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago outplacement firm, says that’s not surprising.

“The jobs done in front of a computer are easily moved home by their nature. They are usually more comfortable with the technical adjustments,” Challenger said.

Challenger said more companies need to jump on the at-home bandwagon because the model will benefit employees at little cost.

“There are risks there. But today companies have become so thorough in measuring productivity, they know who is producing and at what rate. They can reduce the privilege for those that can’t produce.”

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