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(CareerBuilder.com) -- Interested in going to work in your bunny slippers or in splitting your job with a co-worker?

If so, you could become part of the growing force of telecommuters and job-sharers. If you're launching a career campaign, you may want to consider the pros and cons of these two innovative ways to work.

Telecommuters perform the regular duties of a job at home, via computer and modem, rather than being at the office. Skipping the commute is becoming the latest in employee perks, according to the International Telework Association & Council. It found that "about 20 million Americans -- nearly 10 percent of the working adults -- now telecommute at least one day a month."

Job sharing -- when two employees actually split one job -- is also a growing trend. According to a National Business Employment Weekly article, approximately 37 percent of employers currently offer this option. It is used in careers such as law, education, library science, and accounting.

Telecommuting

The best feature of telecommuting is that an employee can work from home. This option is a boon for workers who want more family time or have weekday appointments that aren't flexible. Bosses still get the employee's skills and expertise; it's just via computer, rather than face time. Another appealing factor is that employees spend less time commuting. A recent study on congestion on American highways reports that big city commutes can add 50 plus hours per year to an employee's regular hours. Besides gasoline savings, telecommuting offers substantial savings on wardrobe and babysitters, and it minimizes air pollution.

There is also a dollar savings for employers. An average home worker is able to produce seven hours per day, where in-office workers are productive only six, according to the International Telework Association & Council's survey. This translates into nearly $6,000 per employee per year. Telecommuting employees are happier, so they tend to stay longer at their jobs. Working at one's peak energy time is also a plus. As long as the job is accomplished, no one knows whether you've completed the report as the sun is rising or setting. Also, interruptions are usually less frequent, since unscheduled meetings, office chatter, and lounging around the water cooler are eliminated.

But don't sign up quite yet. There are downsides to telecommuting. As mentioned earlier, face time is eliminated. For new employees, this could spell disaster. How can your boss and co-workers see you perform, unless you're physically present? How can you make friends, build a reputation, and stay in the loop unless you're at your desk? Career advancement requires time and effort, and this means being noticed -- a tough thing to do if you're in your bunny slippers at home.

Getting Started

How do you approach your boss about telecommuting? First, write a proposal outlining exactly how you plan to "deliver" when you're out. Check with your Human Resources department and get its input on this type of arrangement. Without a thorough plan, the success of telecommuting is limited. Some questions to consider: How will you keep in touch with your colleagues in the brick-and-mortar hub? Will you be expected to attend meetings on short notice or meet with clients who schedule at the last minute? How will you deliver your piece of a project and get feedback? Will you have a pager to alert you to emergencies?

Telecommuting is a wonderful perk for self-motivators but may not be a good choice for workers who need a physical push or interaction with others to stay energized. Try a test run, a three- to six-month trial. Have solid evaluation criteria, and don't give up easily. If this option becomes more anxiety-producing than time saving, perhaps it's not for you. You may find that working from home is not the ideal situation due to constant family interruptions. Again, state your expectations to family and friends, and don't agree to run errands or perform household duties when you're "at your home office."

There's also the danger of someone else taking credit for your work. You certainly won't know exactly what was said at a meeting or who presented the great idea. When you're out of the office, you could be thought of as emotionally absent. Make sure that you're able to depend on co-workers to keep you on target with daily updates.

Job Sharing

In this arrangement two employees actually split a job. Unlike telecommuting, the job-sharing employee is free of office responsibility one to two days per week. It's great for workers who have added responsibilities for a finite period of time. Pairs share offices, administrative assistants, and have the same supervisor or manager.

The immediate advantage of this pairing for one job is a more balanced life style. The employee is off the clock when at home or performing other tasks. It also allows an employee to continue to ascend the career ladder, although at a slower pace. An employee doesn't have to quit and seek a part-time position in order to spend time with a young family or complete an advanced degree. Another plus in job sharing is the close working relationship developed by two employees performing one job. At most businesses there is little time or opportunity to develop a strong personal and professional friendship with another colleague.

The "two heads are better than one" axiom is also true in job sharing. Teaming up with another colleague gives breadth and depth to a position, which just can't happen when a job is performed by one. But watch out for non-complimentary personalities in this arrangement. Sharing a job requires similar work styles, values, and ethics. Opposites attract and prosper only in the movies.

On the downside, job sharing may invite negative remarks from co-workers and give others the perception you're no longer committed. Although this isn't true, explanations may be in order. You've proposed an innovative idea and are running with it. Don't let negative feedback get in your way. There may also be an instance when a deadline or project requires more of your time than contracted for. Keep in mind that because your job is not part-time you need to accept this with good grace and then get back to the original agreement as soon as possible.

Seeking the best arrangements for your career requires looking at options that weren't available a few years ago. With low unemployment and increased demand for top employees, you can bet creative options will be the norm, rather than the exception, in the 21st century.

(c) 2002 CareerBuilder.com

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