By Deborah M. Todd Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Fish biologist? Ohio Valley beer ambassador? Air safety investigator?
From Spa specialist to chief operating officer, the range of professional positions that have transitioned from the headquarters to the home office has broadened more than ever before, according to Boulder, Colo.-based telecommuting service FlexJobs.
An analysis of tens of thousands of positions posted on the company's database was narrowed down in December to a list of the top 50 most surprising professional work-from-home opportunities.
Among the top contenders: Genetic counselor, high school physical education/health teacher, animal relocation manager and NATO special operations force subject matter expert, to name a few.
While many people associate working from home with stuffing envelopes or answering after-hours phone calls, in the past few years employees with much more diverse skills have begun to embrace the idea of doing their dream jobs from the comfort of home.
"Over the last two or three years, people have started to realize there are professional-level jobs that can be done while working from home," said Brie Reynolds, FlexJobs director of online content.
"Those jobs have been around for a long time but now they're more prominent and more companies are starting to offer the option because the technology is there."
Though technology changes have resulted in an influx of IT professionals working from home, Reynolds said the most popular telework opportunities, medical and health positions, customer service, sales and administrative assistants and education, require only enough computer savvy to send in your work.
Cutting the office out of the equation doesn't necessarily mean a cut in pay or benefits, she said, and companies typically offer teleworkers the same benefits as on-site employees. Teleworkers can also take advantage of tax write-offs for their home office and some supplies.
For many, the move to telework is less about changing jobs than changing the way a job is done, Reynolds said.
"If you call the doctor's office after hours and you're sent to a nurse's helpline, those nurses are typically working from home. They usually have years of hospital experience and want to dial back their hours and get off of their feet, but still want to use their expertise in the field so they take advantage of these opportunities," she said.
Stacey Pierre-Louis of Martinsburg, W.Va., has been working part time as an editor for Cambridge, Md.-based media company 3Play Media since March.
Telework has turned from an opportunity to make a few extra bucks on weekends to a way of life she wishes could transfer to her full-time job as a city and community economic development specialist. Her editing position, which she said pays up to $30 per hour for difficult assignments, allows her to choose jobs according to her schedule and to plan her workday around her child-care duties.
While the initial goal was to find any part-time job that fit her schedule, Pierre-Louis said she had no idea she would have such attractive options.
"I know a couple of people who do medical transcription from home and I thought I would have to find something like that, but there was all kinds of stuff (in the database) that you would never imagine you could do."
With San Diego-based workplace research firm Global Workplace Analytics estimating the average business can save $11,000 per year per employee who works from home, while the average telework employee can save between $2,000 and $7,000 per year, the range of options is only expected to grow in coming years.
"Companies are starting to realize how much they can actually save by allowing employees to work from home. For full-time workers who are teleworking, there is less office space to maintain. Employees bring their own devices to work so companies don't pay for upkeep of computers and printers," said Reynolds.
"Plus, employees are more productive when they work from home, so they're both reducing costs and increasing what's being done, which is huge."