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Egads, a Telecommute Success Tale

Four years ago, when pharmacist Donna Zarzuela's physician husband, Jose, landed a post in Baltimore, she assumed she'd have to resign her position at Zeneca Pharmaceutical in Wilmington, Del. She had been commuting 230 miles a day round-trip to Wilmington from Ellicott City, Md., and now her employer was moving to Frazier, Pa., and the lengthier drive would have been just too much time behind the wheel.

"It wasn't company policy to let people work at home then, but they said they would look into it, and I became the first person in my department to telecommute," she said.

The results came up roses for Zarzuela, a senior medical information manager who has been promoted twice since and now earns more money working 30 hours a week than she did working full-time five years ago. What's more, with commuting time slashed, Zarzuela has more time with daughters Kira, 4, and Audrey, 6 months.

Zarzuela's experience is becoming increasingly common as employers step up telecommuting options for employees and cut office space costs. According to economist John Sargent of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Washington, nearly 20 million people did some work at home as part of their primary job last year. That's about 15 percent of the labor force -- a figure that continues to grow.

Like many employees reassigned as telecommuters, Zarzuela worked from her office with little supervision, using the telephone as her main method of communication, and did not meet directly with customers on a daily basis. Her doctorate in pharmacy qualified her to answer medical inquiries about Zeneca's products from doctors and other health care professionals. Company sales staffers forward doctors' questions to Zarzuela via e-mail. After the British Zeneca Group merged with Swedish Astra in 1999 to form AstraZeneca, corporate policy changed to allow more staffers to telecommute.

"Almost everybody teleworks one or two days, and that includes administrators as well as managers," Zarzuela said. "Of 80 people in our department, 40 telework once a week." Since she began telecommuting, Zarzuela has earned pay increases totaling 30 percent. She credits the raises in part to the fact that "I get a lot more work done at home than when I was in the office.",1284,54629,00.html - August 19, 2002.