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Working from home can create dilemmas

Flexible schedules may limit ability to advance in career, survey suggests

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As much as we want flexibility in our jobs, we seem to be burdened by our own doubts. Would I appear less committed? How would it affect my career? What would my colleagues think?

Such ambiguity continues to exist even though many companies allow employees to work flexible hours, telecommute and even take an extended break to raise children or take care of other personal business. This perk is considered one way to attract and retain the best people.

A new survey shows the dilemma many workers face.

Some 61 percent of more than 1,300 global executives across various industries say telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers compared with employees who work in traditional office settings.

Yet, nearly 80 percent of the executives say telecommuters are equally or more productive than their office-bound counterparts. And 77 percent say they would probably or definitely consider a regular telecommuting job. (The survey released last week by Futurestep, a subsidiary of talent management firm Korn/Ferry International, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.)

The survey does not define telecommuting, but it can vary across companies and industries. In some sectors, like retail, telecommuting may not be an option.

Barbara Wankoff, national director of workplace solutions for accounting giant KPMG, says the survey results are not reflective of her firm's culture. Among the company's 20,000 U.S. employees, about 70 percent are on some flexible work arrangement, including telecommuting, she says.

"We've got many examples of how our policies indicate that taking advantage of flexibility will not hurt your career, and we have evidence that shows that you can continue to progress and advance," Wankoff says.

She says KPMG promotes strong communication and expectations between managers and employees to make work flexibility a reality.

"We do focus on the expectations of the individuals and responsibilities of their jobs, and people are expected to live up to that," she says.

Still, Eileen Levitt, president of The HR Team in Columbia, says telecommuting can diminish career advancements, especially if you are someone who does not go into the office at all.

For instance, managers may overlook a telecommuter for promotions because they can't evaluate someone's teamwork or interpersonal skills. And the lack of face time could mean "out of sight, out of mind" for supervisors, Levitt says.

"People recognize that telecommuting is not utopia," she says. "There are trade-offs."

From the mailbag: Not everyone agrees with keeping a resume at only one page. After my last column on creating a top-notch resume, Cate, a reader in Baltimore, writes to say that her resume is three pages long.

Cate, who's in her second career, says she sent out 32 cover letters and resumes and snagged 16 interviews.

"My resume was termed 'impressive' by most of those who interviewed me," she writes, noting that her cover letter was tailored to each job opening and "probably got my long resume the proper attention."

What's on your mind about life at work? Send your stories, tips and questions to working@baltsun.com. Please include your first name and your city.

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