Imagine being on vacation in Hawaii and stepping onto the hotel balcony to watch the sun rise. Then the phone rings: It's a co-worker from the mainland. Ready for the conference call?
It happened to Darlene Frudakis, president of PetAg Inc., a Hampshire, Ill., pet food maker. Even more surprising was Frudakis's reaction.
''It was just a fabulous feeling," said Frudakis, who is comfortable blurring the line between work and play. She relishes the ''freedom and creativity . . . to think outside the box" and says that makes her more productive. The downside: ''You can't leave."
More than 30 years after the lifestyle began inching into corporate culture, there were almost 14 million Americans telecommuting at least part time in 2004, and an additional 7 million running businesses from home, according to the Labor Department. Human resources experts believe the number will continue to climb because more workers are demanding flexibility, and because high-speed Internet connections make telecommuting easier than ever.
In 2005, 44 percent of US companies offered at least some telecommuting options, according to a survey of 1,043 large employers by Mercer Human Resources Consulting.
Kristen Havens, who markets books online from her Los Angeles apartment, sometimes feels isolated but doesn't miss loud co-workers.
Jack Nilles, a consultant credited with coining the term ''telecommuting" three decades ago, said technology has never been the main barrier. It's been ''the idea fixed in everybody's head that . . . you had to be someplace where the boss could keep an eye on you."