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Reality of working home alone

For those who battle gridlocked traffic every day as they commute to their jobs, it can seem like a dream come true: In the age of personal computers and fax machines, why not simply work from home?

Indeed, telecommuting, as the trend is called, is an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional workplace setting. An estimated 6.6-million Americans work from home at least one day a week.

But the notion of working all day in bedroom slippers has received a lot of hype, according to a Seattle consultant who strongly advocates the trend but also says it's not everything it's cracked up to be.

John S. Niles, who led a seminar Thursday called "Telecommuting for Success," said the office where a group works together in close proximity to its supervisor is still the most efficient work environment.

"Commuting to office work is not obsolete," said Niles. "Telephones and computers are still inadequate as a total replacement for face-to-face communications."

About 25 people came to hear Niles speak at the Radisson Bay Harbor Inn in Tampa. The session's primary sponsor was GTE Corp.

Niles said organizations become more effective when they supplement traditional work options with telecommuting, allowing some workers on some days to work by themselves at home.

One reason, he said, is that companies find the option of telecommuting is a good way to attract and retain employees who might otherwise leave.

The businesses also find telecommuting can improve a worker's productivity.

"The myth is if they are at home, they're not working," said Niles. "In fact, the truth is they overcompensate. Dinner is no longer quitting time. It's a work break and they head back to the computer."

Niles said a big challenge in telecommuting is defining new boundaries between work and home.

Niles said some people have to get dressed in formal work clothes to make it clear to family members they are not home to have fun. He also said some telecommuters wedded to old ways still leave the house just for breakfast.