Working at home 'best job in world'

Working women

July 27, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

`TC Pat Engler-Parish, 32, is senior vice president of Aspen Tree Software Inc. in Laramie, Wyo.

"I have the best job in the world," said Ms. Engler-Parish, who is in charge of training, customer service, management and personnel. Aspen Tree makes a software package for computerized job interviewing.

Three years ago, however, when she was an assistant to an executive at another company and had her first child, she wasn't so happy.

"During my son's first year, I tried to get approval for working flexible hours or job-sharing, but no one would listen," Ms. Engler-Parish said. She is married to Tom Parish, professor of meteorology at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

"Even though I had just been promoted, had a great job, a great salary and good child care, I wanted to spend more time with my son. It was far more important to me than any job or any salary."

Ms. Engler-Parish, who has a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a master's degree from the University of Wyoming, said she "didn't want to quit. I like working."

Then her quandary was resolved: She got her current job and works from home.

Allowing employees to work from home seems a logical solution for those with family responsibilities. But working from home -- despite the high cost of attracting, training and retaining qualified workers -- is not popular among employers.

The Electronics Industries Association reports that an "astonishing" 30 million households in 1991 were part of that "explosive phenomenon" known as the home office. But the majority of home-based workers are men who own their own businesses, a sign of employer resistance to having employees they can't watch every minute.

But Ms. Engler-Parish was lucky. When she couldn't change her employer's mind, she started looking. She remembered the business courses she had taken with Brooks Mitchell, entrepreneurship and management professor at the University of Wyoming and owner of Aspen Tree Software.

"I met with Brooks and told him I knew a lot about his business and could make him a lot of money," she said.

Mr. Mitchell's response was immediate. "He set up an office for me at home with everything I need, including a business phone, fax machine, computer and printer," said Mr. Engler-Parish, who had another child last year.

Working from home, she makes $38,000 annually, earned a $6,000 bonus last year, uses a baby-sitter when necessary and travels throughout the country.

"It took about three months to separate work from family, but now my work productivity is high, I have a positive attitude, and I am so loyal I do twice what I am asked to do," Ms. Engler-Parish said. "I would never go back to work full time again to a job outside of my home."

She's not the only one who's happy with the arrangement.

"Employers are missing a good bet by not letting employees work from home," said Mr. Mitchell, former corporate director of personnel for Texas Instruments.

Mr. Mitchell had been in business 12 years when he hired Ms. Engler-Parish, his first employee to work from home. At the same time, he moved out of traditional offices and equipped the basement of his home as headquarters.

Since then, his business has grown "close to" $1 million in sales.

In three years, the staff has grown to seven -- all home-based.

Salaries range from $30,000 to $40,000 annually, plus an annual bonus of 10 percent of the profits.

The three other full-time female employees also have young children. Peggy McCrackin has two children and is technical support and development manager. Gwen Clark, who was pregnant when hired, has four children and is data management coordinator. Hazel McMann, administrative assistant, has one child.

"I feel working in a traditional office environment is counterproductive," Mr. Mitchell said. "With new technology, why not let mothers work at home doing legitimate professional jobs for full professional salaries?"

Mr. Mitchell has staff meetings -- with children -- once a week at his home office.

"Clients are impressed and view us as being on the cutting edge of change," Mr. Mitchell said. "But I'm not doing this because I'm liberated. I'm a selfish guy who wants the very best people -- and this is the way to get them and keep them."

And it pays off for his employees, too. "Not only can companies thrive with this arrangement, but so do employed mothers, who can feel good about being with their children in an environment they have chosen -- and still advance professionally and financially," Ms. Engler-Parish said.

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