Like the NASDAQ, telecommuting hit the skids in late 2000. But like investors with well-managed portfolios, companies and telecommuters with the savvy to do it right are still thriving. Here's how.
A year ago, telecommuting was trendy. Companies of all kinds were announcing new work-at-home programs, or they were trumpeting their early-adopter status as longtime telecommuting strongholds. Now, the trend could be sputtering. A survey by Career Engine.com discovered that 62 percent of employers plan to hire fewer telecommuters, and 21 percent plan to phase it out entirely.

What's going on? How could so many companies be so wrong?

Well, don't lose faith in American industry yet. For one thing, CareerEngine's much-ballyhooed survey only tells part of the story. Other research organizations have a different perspective. Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a benefits consulting firm, found through its research that more than half of America's largest companies still offer work-at-home programs of one kind or another, and the firm predicts that up to half of the entire workforce will work remotely in 10 years. And notwithstanding the recent cool-down in employer interest, 2.8 million new telecommuters were added to the rolls in 2000, and 89 percent of those were based at home full time, according to the Telework America 2000 survey.

And another thing - experts acknowledge that setting up a successful telework program isn't easy. Many companies that have soured on the idea may have been burned by choosing the wrong workers to telecommute, by rushing into telework without setting guidelines, and by floundering through the management of their remote workers. Indeed, say telecommuters and companies with flourishing telework programs, a manager's commitment - and companywide commitment - is key. If a manager doesn't like telecommuting, the program is sabotaged from the start.