WASHINGTON – Leslie Barkley briefly considered moving her family-run tax and accounting firm back in 1990, but ultimately decided she and her clients enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere too much to give it up.
Besides, the commute was unbeatable — the office for Barkley Associates is in her Buckeystown home.
“I enjoy working late at night, and this way I don’t have to worry about parking lots or anything,” Barkley said. “Taxes are very stressful for people, and I wanted to do what I could to make them feel at ease.”
The number of home-based workers like Barkley has grown significantly in Maryland, jumping from 64,385 in 1990 to 86,703 in 2000, according to data released Wednesday by the Census Bureau.
That 34.7 percent increase outstripped both the 13.1 percent growth of the overall state population and the 23 percent increase in home-based workers nationally.
Officials attributed Maryland’s growth to the state’s worsening traffic, its increase in white-collar jobs and improvements in technology that made it easier for people to work out of their homes.
Census defines at-home workers as those who work out of their place of residence at least three days a week. Of Maryland’s home-based workers, 58 percent were self-employed; 31 percent worked for private, for-profit companies; 5 percent worked for private nonprofits; 4 percent worked for various governments; and 2 percent were unpaid family workers.
The No. 1 factor leading to their growth last decade was “the advances in technology, which allows people to work at home,” said Census demographer Clara Reschovsky. That, coupled with Maryland’s white-collar economic growth, pushed the state’s growth rate faster than the national average, she said.
“Based on the growth in professional industries and occupations, it’s not surprising that Maryland is higher than the national average,” she said.
Most home-based workers in Maryland — 47 percent — worked in managerial or professional positions. They far outnumbered the 24.3 percent in sales and office positions, the 20.2 percent in service occupations and the remaining 8.5 percent in fields such as fishing, agriculture, construction and transportation.
Business and trade organizations have also been pushing telecommuting in the past decade.
“It’s been going up consistently,” said Nick Ramfos, director of Commuter Connections at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
“When all of the dot-coms started, they fully embraced this type of work ethic,” Ramfos said. “That spawned a whole group of this as a way of business, so that’s why this had an impact on such a high growth rate.”
Ramfos estimated that the number of telecommuters in the Washington area rose from roughly 8.5 or 9 percent of the workforce in 1996 to 11.3 percent in 2001. The area provided fertile ground for telecommuting.
“We have some of the highest access (rates) to the Internet and e-mail — the whole Web-based technology,” he said.
Ramfos added that employers also slowly realized that telecommuting could benefit them, by increasing worker productivity and maintaining a steady workforce during events like snowstorms or building closures.
“If you’re a small company, and you’re closing down, that’s a lot of money. Work stoppage is money lost,” he said. “It’s (telecommuting) a contingency measure you can use as a company.”
The dot-com and technology growth did not just benefit telecommuters, however. Home-based entrepreneurs also saw steady growth last decade, said Rudy Lewis, president of the National Association of Home-Based Businesses in Owings Mills.
“It was about a 10 percent increase each year” of the decade, he said. “The dot-com era was coming in and home-based businesses became popular.”
Lewis added that a hospitable business climate in the state made this a prime area for entrepreneurs working at home.
“We always had a place to go get information and training,” he said. “You see, that was critical for small businesses.”
For Barkley, working at home does not mean that her professional life is hassle-free. But she cannot deny the perks that come with having a home office.
“There are times when I think ‘Gee it would be nice to have an office,'” she said. “Other times it’s just so nice to think, ‘Oh, there’s nothing on TV. Let me work on a client report.'”
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