En español | Returning to work is an economic necessity for some retirees and a personal choice for others. Either way, the prospect of long commutes and annoying coworkers can be daunting. A good compromise might be to find a work-at-home job.
That's what Jackie Booley did. In 2007, she retired from her position as an AT&T call center manager. Her husband had recently died from chronic kidney failure, and Booley, then 61, was exhausted from serving as his primary caregiver while holding down full-time employment.
But retirement proved to be short-lived. Two years later, with energy restored and her nest egg depleted, she found a part-time job that allowed her to work from home. Now, when you dial Office Depot's toll-free number, you may be speaking with Booley in the spare bedroom of her Ocala, Fla., home.
She doesn't work for the office-supply retailer, however. Rather, Booley is employed by Sykes Home, a call center service headquartered in Tampa. Incoming calls to Office Depot are routed to her home office. Sykes has 7,500 work-at-home customer service agents in 2,000 cities.
Booley logs in about 24 hours each week at $9 an hour, answering questions and processing orders. Plus, she contributes 5 percent of her earnings to Sykes' 401(k) employee-retirement plan, which her employer matches 100 percent. "Thanks to the plan, I'm now rebuilding my nest egg," Booley says.
"I absolutely love it," she says of her work-at-home job. "It gives me flexibility. I feel like I'm my own boss, and I can fall out of bed and go to work in seconds."
Beware of work-at-home scams
Working at home has a nice ring to it — sometimes too nice. Work-at-home scams have been around for decades, but in the past few years, the Federal Trade Commission has seen the number of complaints nearly double.
Two glaring red flags to look out for: jobs touted via email that promise to pay more than you ever dreamed, and firms that charge you a fee to obtain more information about a job. "Payment for the privilege of working is rarely acceptable, in our view," says Christine Durst, an Internet fraud and safety expert and cofounder of RatRaceRebellion.com, a website that screens job leads on home-based jobs.
That said, there are legitimate work-at-home jobs in customer service and other fields, but you'll need to do legwork to avoid scams. Here are five jobs to consider. Pay ranges, which will vary based on experience and other factors, are primarily derived from employers and U.S. Department of Labor data.
1. Customer Service Representative
The nitty-gritty: You must have an up-to-date computer (usually a PC), a high-speed Internet connection, a dedicated landline telephone during business hours, a telephone headset and a quiet place to work.
In general, you're answering incoming calls, taking new orders and tracking existing orders. In some cases, you'll troubleshoot and help out with technical support. Online chat sessions and email may be part of the job. You'll need to toggle seamlessly between several computer screen windows at a time. Employers usually offer paid training sessions.
The solitary work demands a good dose of "get up and go" gumption and discipline to keep from being distracted. And don't skimp on buying a comfortable, ergonomically safe chair and headset. Remember, it's tax-deductible if you're an independent contractor.
Potential employers, including Hilton Hotels, American Airlines and 1-800-Flowers.com, might hire directly. Others use third-party companies who then hire home-based workers. In addition to Sykes, other virtual call center operators include Convergys, LiveOps, Arise, West at Home and Working Solutions.
The hours: Full-time, part-time and split shifts are available. Employers may require at least 20 hours a week, plus weekend slots.
Median pay range: The typical hourly rate is about $9, but workers can earn more than $20 an hour with incentives and bonuses. Some firms provide health, vision and dental benefits, or access to group plan rates. Paid vacation and matching 401(k) plans may be a perk, but you'll have to clock in enough hours to be eligible.
Qualifications: Job descriptions typically call for customer care or technical support experience. Think broadly. Prior experience in a retail store as a bank teller or in sales might suffice. Typically, an online test and a phone interview are required. Background, drug and credit checks are standard. Some firms charge $30 to $45 for such screens.