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Virtual Employment Taps Into Under-represented Workforce
Statistically, according to The National Network for Women's Employment, one in four women decides to stay home after the birth of her first child, and 16 percent of eldercare providers leave work to care for an aging parent.
It's no surprise that American families are feeling the squeeze of inflation and are looking for ways to increase their shrinking budgets. The Labor Department released new figures in January 2008 that showed the cost of basic goods has increased almost across the board, with food prices up 4.8 percent, gasoline up 8.2 percent, and heating oil up 7.4 percent.
With prices on basic necessities rising, going back to work is an option that's being put on the table in households across the country. Diane Lang, MA, counselor, life coach, and author of Baby Steps: The Path from Motherhood to Career, published by Bent Tree Press, says she sees women from all walks of life, in various stages of family care—from infant to eldercare—struggle with what's right for their families.
"Women, by and large, are the primary caregivers for their families, children, and aging parents," Lang says. "It can be very difficult to manage everything. Many women choose to leave the workplace to take care of their families. But that can have a tremendous impact on a woman's employment and income potential throughout her lifetime and retirement. It can be a tough decision for these women because they realize they have skills that could bring in extra income. When you also figure in the fact that many women will be left as primary earners because of divorce, death, or separation, it becomes an even more pressing issue that has repercussions down the road. When women take as little as three years off from the workplace, many of them will have to take as much as a 37 percent cut in pay when they return to work."
Fortunately, some new industries have sprung up recently that allow more women to stay at home to care for their families, and to work in professional positions, too. Telecommuting is being called the quiet revolution in the workplace. And it's opening doors to women who thought their employment choices were limited to unemployed, underemployed, or full-time career.
According to Gartner Dataquest, a leading information technology research and advisory company, more than 12 million employees worked from home in 2007, and that number is expected to continue to grow. Several factors have merged to create a perfect storm of conditions for a growing at-home workforce: more business is being conducted via the Internet; businesses have found they can grow without taking on additional overhead costs for office space and equipment; a technology-savvy workforce is accustomed to working in places other than a traditional office; and advances in technology have made it possible for people to share information, no matter where they are.
The new home-based work opportunities are not limited to what has commonly been seen as mom-based work, such as Mary Kay, Tupperware, or children's toy sales. An entire industry of home-based customer service has risen out of the demand for people to answer calls, take orders, and field customer questions on the Internet. These are professional positions, based in virtual offices.
Three companies, Alpine Access, Arise, and LiveOps, are some of the fastest growing, as reported by ABC News's Tory Johnson. They offer home-based customer service work for a host of industries, such as catalog retailers, financial service institutions, airlines, and more. Pay ranges from $8-20 per hour, with 20-25 hours of work per week, average. But there are also home-based work opportunities with individual companies like J.Crew, 1-800-Flowers, or Walgreens. And many corporations offer home-based positions as virtual assistants or even conciege services.
Women with specialized skills, such as nursing, languages, word processing, computer programming, or education, can find home-based work as Web consultants, phone-based triage nurses, foreign-language translators, transcriptionists, computer technology assistants, or tutors.
"There are so many opportunities out there right now," Lang says. "Some estimates say that by the year 2010, there could be as many as 300,000 home-based agents working in the United States. All you have to do is search the Internet with keywords like 'freelance translator,' 'job boards,' 'virtual assistant,' or 'transcription' to start locating these job prospects."
Stay-at-home moms and women who are caring for an aging relative at home are ideal candidates for these virtual positions. According to The National Network for Women's Employment, 93 percent of women who take time out from their careers want to return to work in some capacity, and these virtual employment positions provide the flexibility these women demand.
But there are some hard-and-fast requirements for getting these jobs. First, home-based workers must typically provide their own equipment. A computer, high-speed Internet access, and phone are the basics. More difficult to come by for some stay-at-home moms is a quite time and place to work, which is essential for work as a virtual customer service agent.
That doesn't mean that moms with small children can't be employed in these types of positions. It just means they might have to take off-hour assignments, when the house is quiet, or hire a daycare or nanny for a few hours a day. If the situation at home changes—whether it's because the kids have entered school, or because an employee wants to put in more or fewer hours—at-home workers can adjust their schedules. Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of this type of work.
"The second requirement for work-at-home opportunities is the right mindset," says Lang. "I counsel women on how to manage the extra responsibilities of work with their already-full schedules. In fact, my book, Baby Steps, was written to address the questions that women face when they consider going back to work—training, interviewing, finances, equipment, family stress, etc. Any change can be stressful—even good change. That's why it's important to walk through the steps before you make a big decision."
Telecommuting and at-home work can be very satisfying for employees. Statistics compiled by in 2007 by "The Wall Street Journal" says that a poll of about 10,000 workers showed 73 percent of telecommuters and home-based workers with a high level of job satisfaction. And a 2007 Quick Takes report compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites an article in Catalyst on "Women in U.S. Corporate Leadership" that indicates 73 percent of executive women were comfortable with the tradeoffs they'd made to balance their careers and personal goals.
"One of the biggest challenges women face when going back to work in any capacity is keeping everything in perspective," Lang says. "Those first weeks, or even months, back at work can be difficult. Everyone—you, your husband, your child—needs time to adjust. For women who work at home, it can be difficult to separate work and home life. Technology has made it possible for us to be working all the time—with our laptops on, our PDAs sending messages, and our instant access to coworkers and employers. It's important to keep things in balance. That's one of the topics I cover in detail in my book."
For anyone considering the new home-based work opportunities, the experts recommend searching many options. Every telecommuting position offers different flexibility, pay, and responsibility. Look around until you find a good match for your situation. As listed by Tory Johnson at ABC News, some good places to start include West, Working Solutions, Accolade Support, Customer Loyalty Concepts, Sci@Home, Reps for Rent, Overflow, and ACD Direct.
And don't be afraid to contact businesses and owners you know about possible work-at-home opportunities. More businesses are realizing the benefits of off-site workers, and many are receptive to new ideas for employment. In addition, be willing to search out resources that can help you make your decision, such as Diane Lang's book, Baby Steps: The Path from Motherhood to Career, available from Bent Tree Press, http://www.benttreepress.com/products/lang_prod_desc.htm, and Amazon.com.
Diane Lang has an M.A. in Counseling and a B.A. in Liberal Arts from the New York Institute of Technology. She currently works as a therapist at Universal Institute in Livingston, NJ, where she provides therapy to patients with traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse issues. She has been employed at various colleges in New Jersey both as an Adjunct Professor and as a Chairperson in her field of Psychology. She also works as a therapist and life coach in the New York and New Jersey areas. Ms. Lang has served as host of various educational videos and has been a radio and Internet guest expert on relationships and stay-at-home moms going back to work. For current information on appearances and bookings, visit her website at
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