Many of his co-workers already lived in the East Bay so the move was ideal. But for Wilson, who grew up in the North Bay, it would have meant an even longer commute, something he said he could not bare.
“I informed them that I would have to start working from home or have to leave the company,” Wilson said.
“The job that I’m doing is unique enough and I’m well thought of enough they they wanted to keep me on.”
The biggest challenge to setting up a home office, he said, was finding adequate broadband internet access where he lives. Video conferencing using web utilities such as Webex and Skype mean that he doesn’t have to be face-to-face with his customers. He spends 90 percent of his work time in his home office, a converted bedroom with a desk, multiple computers and two phone lines.
The background sound in his office is often his dog snoring under the desk. Although the benefits are many, Wilson said the virtual world is in some ways a colder place. He misses personal interaction with clients and collegues, and the friendships that sometimes develop from business relationships.
“This loss of the personal relationships that grow out of teamwork even means that I will probably have to plan my own retirement party,” Wilson wrote in an email. “No big luncheon with my co-workers. No presentation of the proverbial gold watch. I’m at home.”
Al Lerma, director of business development and innovation for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said working from home is a trade-off between greater flexibility and losing a certain amount of human interaction. Still, he said the trend is clearly on the rise, and today’s tight labor market is giving some workers the leverage they need to create the work environment they want and can afford.
“It’s a negotiating point now,” Lerma said. “Employees are asking themselves, ‘Can I work three days in the office and two at home, save on child care, save on commuting expenses?’”
Working from home, however, is not for everyone.
Until about four months ago, Dennis Szelestey, 55, of Santa Rosa worked as a database programmer and administrator for a pharmaceutical company in Maryland. He’s now doing similar work for American AgCredit on Aviation Boulevard, just 11 miles from his home office in Bennett Valley.
Szelestey, who came to Sonoma County in 2013, said working remotely has its benefits, such as eliminating commuting, saving money on office attire, being home when the plumber arrives and, oddly, being easier to find than when he was in the office.
But the lack of personal interaction is difficult for him.
“There would be times when I would not hear anything for a couple of days at a time and it was strange to say the least,” Szelestey said in an email. ”It’s difficult to stay in sync with what is going on at the office without the face-to-face interaction.”
Stephen Shore of Forestville, a retired chiropractor who now teaches online courses for a large research university on the East Coast, said he also misses human interaction. But the compromise is worth it.
“I have a killer commute,” he said. “I get up, I trip over my dog, I go to the bathroom, come out of the bathroom put on yesterday’s clothes, get my dog and take him for his first day’s walk.”