SOCIETY

Cyber-commuting from Petralona, Athens, to Manhattan, NYC

Despina did not get March 25 off for Greek Independence Day, but she won’t work on July 4 as she is employed by a major US credit management firm. Only she doesn’t live in Manhattan, where the company is based, but in the Athens suburb of Petralona, where she works from home, online.

Despina is one of hundreds of thousands of professionals around the world who have been allowed to do what they want to do, wherever in the world they want to do it, without leaving home thanks to the possibilities of technology.

“That I work from home does not mean that I can work whenever I want. I have to be in front of my computer from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, only it’s in US East Coast time, which means 4 p.m. until midnight local time,” Despina explains. “That’s my only complaint; that I’m always working when my friends are free.”

She admits that she will sneak a few moments to whip us some food or put on a load of laundry, “but the day is always full and sometimes very intense.”

The young professional says that another plus is that she saves money and time on commuting to and from work, though the downside is that you miss the social interaction of an office environment.

“Working from home can get lonely,” Despina admits.

She also says that while her salary is satisfactory, a good chunk of it goes toward paying the additional social security and tax levies that freelance professionals in Greece have to pay as she cannot be registered as being on a payroll.

Of course Despina is among the fortunate professionals who enjoy the pluses of working at home.

Paris is 27 years old and a computer whizz with a degree from the National Technical University of Athens. Unable to find any work in the outside world, he spent several months working from home for an international online betting agency, updating its website from midnight to 8 a.m. every day, posting new game results, following the odds and so on as part of a team of dozens of similar technicians around the world, people whose names he never knew.

“It was exhausting. Every night, all night, the same thing, again and again, in front of the computer,” says Paris. “I didn’t have a choice. I needed the money.”

Paris earned up to 500 euros a month after paying the social security contributions and taxes all freelancers have to pay.

Working online from home is gaining popularity in Greece as it provides a way out of the nightmare of unemployment by providing workers and employers the opportunity to operate with low costs. The result, of course, is not always successful.

Kelly, for example, launched an at-home secretarial service with a friend, providing support for professionals or businesses that could not afford to hire a full-time secretary. The endeavor started off well enough but never generated enough cash to make it worthwhile.

As the idea gains ground, the scope is also growing. Telephone sales companies, for example, no longer employ a 24-hour exchange. Instead, they route calls to the telephones of associates outside regular business hours. It is estimated that at least one in 10 workers in Greece is employed in some form of distance work, with roughly one-third on a payroll, another third supplementing another regular income, and the last third self-employed.