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Workplace attitudes change toward 'face time'

While some bosses are still leery about telecommuting, others are realizing the productivity benefits of these long-distance relationships.

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Bosses come in two types: those who want their employees to be present every day, and those who trust them to work anywhere.

Amanda Farmer knows which kind she prefers. During 18 months at a ­public-relations agency in New York, she says, "Our desks were set up so that our bosses literally looked over our shoulders all day. This constant vigilance made me less productive."

Now, as an account manager for a public-relations firm in Waco, Texas, Ms. Farmer telecommutes from her home in Austin. Although she sees her boss, Elizabeth Anderson, only once every three months, both find that the long-distance arrangement works well.

"It's a nonissue," Ms. Anderson says.

Yet "face time" – in-person contact with bosses and co-workers – is an issue in many businesses. More than 28 million Americans work at least one day a month from home, according to WorldatWork, a national organization of human-resource professionals. That figure could reach 100 million by 2010.

As the numbers swell, questions arise about how much face time is necessary. Despite lingering resistance on the part of many bosses, attitudes are changing, and some firms are devising inventive ways to maintain connections.

For Farmer and Anderson, that includes keeping in touch by instant message. "We all exchange to-do lists every week, so they can see what I'm working on," Farmer says. "They let me set my own schedule, and they trust me to accomplish my objectives." The result? "I am significantly more productive, as I do not have as many interruptions."

Richard Laermer, a marketing consultant in New York and author of the forthcoming book "2011," sees radical change ahead as more workers follow Farmer's lead. The high cost of commercial real estate in major cities, soaring gas prices, long commutes, and environmental concerns are altering work patterns.

"It is all going to be about telecommuting in two to three years," Mr. Laermer says. "It's going to be a huge change in the way things get done. Working at home is not only possible, it's going to end up being better for the employee and the employer."

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