By CASSIE MCKEE
Four Points News
A growing number of professionals are choosing to work from home, especially in the Four Points area.
An analysis of House District 47, which stretches across western Travis County and includes Four Points and the communities of Lakeway, Lago Vista, Jonestown and Bee Cave, revealed that 12.7 percent of its residents work from home, a significantly higher number compared to the state average of 4 percent.
While many are self-employed, a growing number of companies are allowing their employees to telecommute, or work remotely from a home-based office.
Steiner Ranch resident Kristina Ritchie has telecommuted for her company Mintel International, LTD, a global market intelligence agency, since 2007.
“I am specifically responsible for a division within Mintel that monitors marketing efforts in the U.S. and Canada, and I oversee a team that establishes new partnerships for us in the U.S. and Canada,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie initially began working from home when a doctor ordered her to be on bed rest while she was pregnant with her first child.
“It turns out that we had one of our best quarters, so once I returned from maternity leave I sat down with my executive team and made a case for a more flexible work from home schedule,” she said. “At the time, I was commuting at least 1.5+ hours downtown, so for me it was a big factor in whether I was going to return to work, stay home, or find a more flexible position. In the end, they accepted my proposal to work from home, and I believe it’s been mutually beneficial for Mintel and for me.”
Interestingly, Ritchie is based out of the company’s Chicago office. While she and her husband used to live in Chicago, she continued working for the company even after she and her husband moved to Austin.
“When my husband was offered a job in Austin, it wasn’t a big deal to my company to allow me to make the move because I was already a full-time telecommuter,” Ritchie said. “My Chicago office visits are fewer and farther between, but I still make it there at least once per quarter.”
Ritchie said the biggest advantage of telecommuting is that it allows her to better balance work and family life.
“I am home to participate in a lot of the school things that are really tough for parents to attend who work out of the home, including my husband,” she said. “I am able to take my kids to school in the morning, and I am usually able to be there when they get off the bus. Instead of long lunch breaks and coffee chats, I am able to put that time into my family.”
Cindy Flickinger, who also lives in Steiner Ranch, telecommutes for Dallas-based Apartment Agents, an apartment locating service.
She also first approached her boss about the idea of working from home. While initially reluctant, he eventually agreed. She has worked from home since 2008 and, now, the company’s entire team of 12 works from home, with agents as far away as Arizona.
“It requires a lot of discipline to work from home, especially while working in a totally different city,” Flickinger said. “(My boss) honestly didn’t think it could work, but I’m glad he agreed. I make triple working from home that I did in the home office. There is nowhere else I would ever want to work.”
Not having to commute each day gives her more time to work, important since her job is 100 percent commission based.
“Having that extra time to work as opposed to being stuck in traffic allows me to be so much more productive,” she said. “When I worked on site, other agents were constantly walking in and distracting me. I love being able to be totally uninterrupted and focused completely on my job.”
The work arrangement is working. Apartment Agents just won the Consumer’s Choice Award for the 7th year in a row as DFW’s best apartment locator. Flickinger heads to Dallas this week to attend the ceremony.
One downside of working from home is that it can be hard to leave work at the office. Former nurse Kiki Schmalzl works from home in the medical device industry. Her employer, Drager, Inc., is also based out of state, in Pennsylvania.
“I work all of the time,” Schmalzl said. “I don’t start at 8 a.m. and stop at 5 p.m. Generally, I work 60 hours a week, but am much more productive than my counterparts. I also have 25 staff in the field in hospitals with clinicians and providers at all hours of the day and night so, I am always taking calls, texts and email regarding issues or needs.”
Another downside is that employees can sometimes feel disconnected from the rest of their team.
“Professionally, it makes it challenging for me to always feel in the know,” Ritchie said. “I am often talking to, or getting emails from, people in the company that I have never met in person, so I do feel disconnected at times. Surely as a telecommuter you miss out on the quick one-off conversations that are good from a networking standpoint as well.”
Despite the challenges, all three women said they love working from home and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“After being a flight attendant for 17 years, and working in very tight spaces and having zero flexibility for my time, having the elbow room of my own office, and the freedom to show up for work when I’m able has just been a dream come true,” Flickinger said.