Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Call center at home

ST. PAUL, MINN. - Kathleen Hughes moved from Florida to rural Minnesota last year.

She cringed when she had to get in the car in snowy weather and make a 40-mile drive to her job in Grand Rapids, Minn.

The commute got old very quickly.

``That's what really pushed me over the edge to work at home,'' she said.

Working from home isn't new, but Hughes has tapped into a more recent adaptation: the virtual call center.

Hughes, 25, is part of a growing legion of so-called cyberagents, the ranks of which are expected to grow at a clip of more than 20 percent annually as companies continue to move work away from traditional brick-and-mortar call centers to lower-cost centers that tap into workers' homes.

Using telecommunications software that allows workers in Minnesota or California to work together as smoothly as those who sit in adjacent cubicles, vendors are landing contracts with companies like Sears, 1-800-Flowers, Office Depot, Verizon, J. Crew, Virgin Atlantic Airlines and local AAA auto clubs.
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