Telecommuting growing in popularity locally [UPDATED]Published 6:40am Monday, March 18, 2013 Updated 8:43am Monday, March 18, 2013
Born in Breckenridge and raised in Dent, Tony Kimball could be considered a pioneer in telecommuting, after leaving the Supercomputer Center in Minneapolis and taking his job with him in 1991. When Fergus Falls got an Internet service provider in 1994, he was able to move back here with his family.
Currently Kimball works for Bloomberg L.P., based out of New York, consulting on hedge funds and lending, designing trading strategies and estimating credit risk.
“I love my work and I’m extremely well paid, but it is not something I could otherwise do in Fergus Falls,” Kimball said.
Kimball isn’t alone. There are about 350 teleworkers in Fergus Falls, and the number is growing, according to Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Executive Director Harold Stanislawski.
Telecommuting is on the rise, news that major companies such as Yahoo and Best Buy are re-evaluating their telework positions.
After news that Best Buy was pulling back teleworkers, Stanislawski contacted a local teleworker for the company who reported that while some workers in operations were required to work on site because of the nature of their job, people in his area of technical support were continuing to telecommute.
Stanislawski said he has been in talks with major companies, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, to expand job opportunities. But while the Twin Cities touts easing traffic congestion as one of the top benefits, Stanislawski puts new job creation at the top of the list.
“Let’s say a couple moves here for a job — if the spouse can’t find work, they may leave the area,” said Stanislawski, who has been championing the concept through Forward Fergus Falls and the Telework Initiative. He feels it is imperative to add to the job base of the region.
A basic concern for employers is whether or not telecommuting employees will really be working. Stanislawski said research is overwhelming in proving that on average employee productivity actually increases with telecommuting.
“One of my greatest problems is knowing when to stop working,” said Kimball, who works from home in Fergus Falls part of the week and in Manhattan part of the week. “The greatest advantage is having family time and being there for the entirety of the process of my daughter growing up.”
Jake Krohn also took his job with him when he moved to Fergus Falls from Pittsburgh. Working for Carnegie Mellon University, Krohn used to go an office to do his computer work. He started telecommuting as a lifestyle choice when he and his wife started their family.
“There was some initial resistance (about telecommuting), but not a deal breaker,” said Krohn, who telecommuted for four years.
Eventually Krohn felt he wanted to be more connected to the community than working for a company over 1,000 miles away. He started working locally doing technology consulting, sometimes from home, at Internet hotspots like Cafe 116 or the library, and sometimes from a small, rented studio space operated by A Center for the Arts in downtown Fergus Falls.
“It gives me a quiet place to go and work away from home,” Krohn said. He also carves out ample time with his five-year-old son. “I’ve chosen not to go for the 9 to 5 route. I get to take my son to school and pick him up.”
Opportunities are predominate in tech based positions, but the range of occupations is expanding too.
Mary Robertson reviews telecommuting opportunities for the Economic Improvement Commission’s Telework Initiative in Fergus Falls, and sends out opportunities weekly to those that have signed up for free.
“We use flexjobs.com because it seems to have the most opportunities, but do encourage people to use minnesotaworks.net too,” Robertson said.
Using search criteria to view all new jobs in Minnesota that allow telecommuting, Robertson pulled up 1,794 opportunities on her computer. While most were technical positions, there were several opportunities in marketing, writing, social media, sales and customer service.
Robertson looks at each opportunity to see if it has restrictions, such as a whether a worker must be located in a certain state or area, but until a potential telecommuter contacts an employer, they won’t really know all of the requirements and restrictions.
Robertson then sends out job listings to the email database.
“We want to whet their interest to get on the site and see if there are jobs of interest,” Robertson said.
There is a fee of $14.95 per month to $49.95 per year to join Flexjobs.com, though it is free to sign up for the weekly e-mails of job announcements through the EIC, and a discount is available through the office.
To sign up for the Telework e-mails, contact Mary.Robertson@ci.fergus-falls.mn.us.
While Stanislawski continues to champion telecommuting, he says the bottom line is it just makes sense.
“The results are happier employees, greater productivity, workplace cost savings, and environmental benefits from people not having to drive,” Stanislawski said.