Melissa Huston used to spend 90 minutes each way, getting back and forth from work.
She lives in Lutz and was commuting to a job in St. Petersburg.
“It was debilitating, mentally,” Huston said. “There were days that were awful driving there.”
She and her husband, Doug, have two children. Tyler attends McKitrick Elementary School and Brandon is in preschool.
Besides getting stuck in traffic, Huston had the additional stress of not being sure she’d be able to pick up her children from child care on time.
“You’re trying to get to your kids at night, and you’re watching the clock and you’re sitting in it (traffic) — and God forbid, there’s an accident and you’re panicking.
“I don’t miss any of that,” said Huston, who has been working at home for Dell, since July 2013.
Huston had worked for Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg for many years and made the switch to a Tampa company, which announced that it was moving to St. Petersburg.
At the time, Tyler was getting ready to start kindergarten, and Huston decided she would look for a stay-at-home job.
“When they’re in preschool, they don’t have homework. They don’t have as many activities,” Huston said.
But she knew she wanted to be able to help with homework and attend school activities, and couldn’t think of a way to do that and still have a long commute.
So, she began looking for stay-at-home work opportunities.
She had heard about the scams involving work from home jobs.
“That was my big concern: Are they legitimate?” she said.
She had reason to worry.
The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be skeptical when checking out work-at-home opportunities. Many of them require an upfront investment, and many fail to live up to their claims.
As Huston was researching stay-at-home jobs, she came across a website called FlexJobs.com.
The company, which is a 100 percent, virtual remote company, was founded in 2007 in Boulder, Colorado, by Sara Sutton Fall, according to Kathy Gardner, the company’s PR Manager, who is based in Stamford, Connecticut.
FlexJobs.com essentially offers a subscription service to provide information about available jobs to job seekers. The fees are $14.95 a month, $29.95 for three months and $69.95 for 12 months.
The job seekers, who are the company’s clients, pay the fee to gain access to its postings and are guaranteed that the site is 100 percent free of scams and advertisements, Gardner said.
Huston said the service helped her find her job.
FlexJobs.com has helped more than 1 million people in their job searches, Gardner said. And, according to a recent analysis of its data, it turns out that Florida ranks fourth in the nation for recruitment by companies for telecommuters, Gardner added.
Huston said the site offers listings on all types of jobs, ranging from contract work to part-time to full-time salaried positions.
Before signing up for the service, Huston said, she had not thought to look for a telecommuting opportunity on Dell’s website.
Huston, whose background is in marketing analytics, has the kind of job that lends itself to working remotely.
“My job is all computer-based,” she said. “There is some face-to-face talking, but it’s predominantly data driven.”
She works with a team stationed around the globe.
“We have the ability to share our screens. Through our instant messaging tool, we can share our desktops, so, if I’m looking at this and I want to explain something with this spreadsheet, I can share it.
“We utilize that a lot to talk through things.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish,” she said.
Still, since they don’t share the same physical space, the working relationships that occur naturally in an office have to be nurtured, she said.
“You have to make an effort to stay connected with your colleagues,” Huston said.
Working from home is not for everyone, she noted.
The key to working at home, she said, is to establish a schedule.
“It can’t just be work whenever you feel like it, because this is a regular job. You have to establish a good routine of when you start your day and when you end it, too,” she said.
While some people working at home might tend to slack off, others may be too intense.
It’s easy to work 80 hours or more because you’re literally always at the office, she said.
It’s important to find a balance and to maintain it, Huston said.
There’s a lot to be said for being able to check on a project or share information after normal working hours by popping into your home office and spending 5 minutes to take care of a task, Huston said.
Besides having a regular work routine, it’s important to have a separate space designated for your office, she said. It’s important to be able to close the door and focus on work.
“It’s a corporate job. It is a big company. There are demands,” she said.
Huston loves being able to eliminate the long commute and focus on her work and family.
She’s been able to be involved in some volunteer work at McKitrick Elementary and she’s nearby, if there’s ever an emergency, she said.
In fact, she added, “my youngest, actually, broke his leg at his pre-school, and I was there in 2 seconds because it was around the corner.”
Working at home is not for everyone, Huston said. But she added: “For the place that I’m at in my life, it’s a good fit.”
Working at home is not for everyone
Melissa Huston, a Lutz mom who works at home, offers this advice for people who work at home:
- Be sure to establish a routine.
- Set up a separate office space — you need to be able to close the door, to work uninterrupted.
- Be aware that while you have more flexibility, you still must meet work demands.
- Know that working at home is not a good idea if you’re not a good time manager.
- Be prepared to make an extra effort to stay in the loop with your colleagues.
The FTC’s advice for avoiding work-at-home scams
Of course, when it comes to business opportunities, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
Promises of a big income for work from home, especially when the “opportunity” involves an upfront fee or divulging your credit card information, should make you very suspicious, advises a consumer protection article on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
It doesn’t matter where you saw the advertisement or heard about the offer, the FTC warns. Research the opportunity and be skeptical.
Here are some examples of work-at-home opportunities that often turn out to be scams:
- Envelope stuffing: For a “small fee,” you can make lots of money stuffing envelopes at home, but it turns out that there’s no work and the only way you can earn any money is by persuading others to pursue the same envelope-stuffing opportunity.
- Assembly or craft work: This promises that you can make money assembling crafts or other products at home. But first you have to invest money for equipment and supplies. Then, after you’ve spent lots of hours producing goods for a company that has promised to buy them, they reject your products because your work is “not up to standards.”
- Rebate processing: The offer says you can earn money by helping to process rebates. Then it says the fee for training, certification or registration is nothing compared to what you’ll earn processing rebates from home. What you’ll receive are useless training materials and no rebates to process.
- Online searches: This opportunity promises that you’ll ear $500 to $1,000 a week, or even up to $7,000 a month, by running Internet searches on prominent search engines and filling out forms. In this case, the scammers are not connected to well-known search engines. They’re trying to trick you into handing over credit or debit car information. If you pay even a tiny fee online, they can use your financial information to charge you recurring fees.
- Medical billing: This offer promises a substantial income for full- or part-time work processing medical claims electronically — no experience needed. These opportunities often require a substantial investment for software, list of potential clients and technical support. But the software may not work, and the lists are often outdated. If you decide to pursue this type of opportunity, be sure to obtain a lengthy list of previous purchasers for references. Be wary if the list just has a couple of names on it, because they may be shills that have been hired to say good things.
If you’re thinking about following up on a work-at-home offer, do your homework. Before pursuing a stay-at-home work opportunity, ask:
- What tasks will I have to perform? Be sure you have a list of every step of the job.
- Will I be paid a salary or paid on commission?
- If the job involves purchasing some type of program, ask what is the basis for your claims about my likely earnings? What documents can you show me to prove your claims are true before I give you any money?
- Who will pay me? When will I get my first paycheck?
- What is the total cost of this work-at-home program, including supplies, equipment and membership fees? What will I get for my money?
Where to Complain
If you are unable to resolve a dispute with the company, you can file a complaint with:
- The Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint
- The Florida Attorney General’s Office
- The Better Business Bureau
- Local consumer protection offices
Published March 18, 2015