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American Demographics Magazine's September 1998 issue suggested that the growth of home offices has plateaued or is declining ("Home Office Slow Down?"). But does this sound right to you? After all, why would Office Depot plan to open 105 more superstores this year, while Staples is adding two more U.S. distribution centers to support its rapid growth? And why would the International Telework Association recently commit to publishing a 12-time magazine dedicated to telecommuters? You may be confused as to whether this is the right or wrong time for your company to focus on the home office. No doubt, you'll turn to statistics.

But let's take a look at some recent surveys:

As many as 41 million Americans do some work at home. Source: BIFMA International, 1998.

Nearly a third of American households include a home office. Source: Wirthlin Worldwide, a market research firm, 1998.

There are between 15 million and 40 million home-based businesses in the U.S. Source: The School and Home Office Products Association, 1998.

There are an estimated 60 million home-office workers in the U.S. today. Source: USA Today, Nov. 30th, 1998.

15.7 million people in the U.S. telecommute. Source: Cyber Dialogue and Find/SVP, based on interviews with 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older, 1998.

"Find/SVP estimates about 11 million U.S. workers now telecommute on a regular basis for at least part of each work week. JALA International, a California-based consultancy, however, suggests the current numbers are between 15 and 17 million." Source: Telecommute magazine, January 1999.

Note the discrepancies in the surveys; no two are alike. Sometimes one survey will define a home office differently from another survey. It's not always wise to rely on surveys, especially regarding the home office. Why? Masses of people that work at home or telecommute are never accounted for in surveys. The bottom line: There are probably more people who work at home or telecommute than the surveys would have you believe.

Says Lisa Roberts, author of How to Raise a Family and a Career Under One Roof, "The evidence that the home-office and telecommuting market is huge is in the success rate of proliferating office superstores. Statistics and surveys are not signs of the times."

Roberts is right. Even when marketers have the best intentions, there are whole populations of home-based workers and telecommuters who are left out of the count for a variety of reasons. Researchers only reach a few hundred to a few thousand people for their surveys. Researchers rely on human resources and facility departments to supply them with numbers of telecommuters.

If you must rely on surveys, I suggest looking at ones that offer insights into the home-office worker's world, including furniture-purchasing habits. There are two I recommend: Wirthlin Worldwide's home-office survey, which is updated annually, is 44 pages and costs $2,500. It includes information regarding everything from usage patterns to brands of home-office furniture purchased (to order online, visit SHOPA ( soon plans an update on its 1997 Dynamic Profile of the Home Office Today. Just remember, no survey takes into consideration the entire universe of the home office.

If you are shying away from committing more sales and marketing resources to home-office products because of confusing statistical information, take an afternoon and visit an office superstore. Afterward, you may be inspired to ditch the surveys in the circular file you bought on the way out of the store.

Marilyn Zelinsky ( is author of Practical Home Office Solutions (McGraw Hill 1998) and contributes to Home Office Computing.
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Author:Zelinsky, Marilyn
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 10, 1999

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