The work-from-home job force is rapidly expanding with an increasing number of people kissing the dreaded commute to the workplace goodbye. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, Facetime, Slack, authenticator apps, and cloud computing—not to mention texting and email—it's no longer necessary to be physically in an office to be a productive member of the team. In fact, many kinds of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office.

As appealing as remote work is to employees, it wouldn’t be such a strong trend if employers didn’t also recognize benefits from their side of the desk. Companies that have implemented virtual workplaces appreciate the cost savings on office facilities, estimated by the Telework Coalition to be as much as $10,000 a year per employee. 

Virtual workplaces create greater employee productivity, fewer missed workdays due to illness or commuting problems, and a much bigger pool of potential workers to choose from. Also, in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, a distributed workforce is in a better position to keep operations running, even if some of the group goes offline. 

Where Work-From-Home Jobs Are

The good news is work-at-home jobs are no longer limited to multi-level marketing (MLM) outfits, like Amway or Avon. Improved technology and the need to cut costs and/or keep overhead low have encouraged businesses of all sizes and a variety of fields to create more work-from-home opportunities.

Job-hunting site FlexJobs vets its telecommuting/part-time/freelance listings for legitimacy, conducts periodic surveys of where the growth in flexible work is. Here are some of the top fields it's identified in the last two years.

Health and Medical Services

In the health sector, the leading companies with work-at-home employment include healthcare giants Aetna, Broadspire, Covance, Forest Laboratories, Humana, Parexel and UnitedHealth Group. The job titles they have sought to fill included computer- or phone-based jobs such as account manager, actuarial consultant, business-intelligence manager, case manager, medical writer, patient-education or case advocates, revenue-integrity director, and sales representative. Other recent remote positions include clinical care manager and registered nurse case manager.

Education

Some of the more surprising opportunities FlexJobs found are in fields typically thought of as requiring face-to-face contact – like education, for instance. The growth of online learning companies like InstaEDU, K12, Connections Academy, Kaplan, and Tutor.com has led to more listings for freelance and part-time positions like curriculum writer, parent mentor, SAT instructor, science teacher, student-services coordinator and tutor. Services from Chinese online education firm VIPKID offer an American education experience to young Chinese students and provides a flexible, remote work schedule for their teaching workforce.

Related to this are opportunities for those fluent in different languages. Companies like Appen, which evaluates and coordinates communications for international clients, or Asurion, which offers multilingual customer support for electronics companies’ product insurance plans, obviously have a need for people to serve as interpreters and translators.

Government

Government agencies are not institutions you immediately associate with innovative or unconventional personnel policies. But organizations at the local, state, and national level are increasingly adopting flexible work options. The federal government, in particular, has been a champion of telecommuting in recent years, and actually leads the private sector in terms of adopting telecommuting policies and encouraging employees to work from home (in fact, almost one in three federal employees does so at some point during the year.) This includes agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior and the Department of Transportation with job titles such as foreign affairs officer, security specialist, economic assistant, and emergency services planner.

Technology & Engineering

Less surprising work-at-home-friendly categories are technology, which is known for its progressive approach to virtual offices, and engineering, which is often done on a per-project basis. Some employers, such as IBM, First Data, Infor, Red Hat, and SAP, offer job listings in high-tech sales (sales being one of the original flex-time professions). Other job titles tech companies often seek to fill with remote workers include positions such as project manager, web designer, software developer, power-systems engineer or technical writer.

Work-From-Home-Friendly Firms

Thousands of legit companies, even some of those listed on the Fortune 500, offer a wide array of telecommuting jobs, from positions requiring advanced degrees and experience all the way down to entry-level gigs.

The following ten corporations represent a great place to start when looking for a work-at-home job that actually pays the bills.

Amazon.com Inc.

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) employs more than 500,000 workers around the world, many of them reporting to work from their home offices. Only a small percent of Amazon.com employees work in the state of Washington, where the company is headquartered. With employees spread out everywhere, those not working at the home office need not feel left out. Work-at-home job openings at Amazon.com run the gamut from customer service positions to global account manager jobs.

Dell Inc.

Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Dell offers work-at-home jobs as well as flexible jobs that include both office time and working remotely. The company is known for an assortment of other employee-friendly perks, such as compressed workweeks. Dell has work-at-home job openings in many fields that require various levels of education and experience, from outside sales to tech support to marketing management. 

Humana Inc.

Health insurance company Humana (HUM) employs 50,000 people both on-site and working from home. The latter are doing everything from sales management, which requires great people skills but has no hard-and-fast educational requirements, to physical therapy, which requires additional years of post-college coursework.

Aetna Inc.

Health care company Aetna Inc. (AET) allows employees to work from home after they have been with the company for one year. Telecommuting positions include customer service representatives, supervisors and even frontline nurses. Employees who work from home enjoy access to extensive technology to help keep them plugged into happenings at the company and maintain communication with teammates.

American Express Co.

American Express (AXP) offers full-time, part-time, temporary and contract work-at-home jobs. The positions cover a wide spectrum of opportunities and include business development management (a job typically requiring an MBA and/or years of experience), as well as part-time virtual customer care representative jobs. American Express encourages a strong work-life balance and personal growth for its employees.

Kaplan

Kaplan is a tutoring company that helps students prepare for standardized tests required for admittance to college or graduate school. Its most popular telecommuting position is that of a tutor. The job requires little to no office time but may involve traveling to meet students. Tutors at Kaplan make $20 per hour or more and can work from less than 10 hours per week to 40 hours per week, depending on availability and demand for services. To get hired as a Kaplan tutor, a candidate must demonstrate strong performance on one or more standardized tests, such as the SAT or GRE.

Salesforce.com Inc.

Salesforce.com (CRM) has previously been named by Fortune magazine as a top 100 company to work for, and by Forbes as one of the world's most innovative companies. Many of its over 25,000 team members work from home. The company's telecommuting job openings usually require several years of prior experience. An entry-level candidate's best bet to work from home for Salesforce is to pursue a sales job, such as a field sales account executive.

Automatic Data Processing

Automatic Data Processing (ADP) provides outsourcing and payroll solutions to businesses around the world. Most of its work-at-home job openings are in sales and customer service, which means entry-level candidates have a chance at being hired. Others are in software and application development, which pay more but require specialized technology skills.

IBM

International Business Machines (IBM) offers telecommuting jobs both in the United States and internationally. In addition, the company hires a significant number of freelancers, ranging from chemists to software developers to researchers, who work on a contract basis and get paid by the job. Many of these workers also have the flexibility to work at home. A benefit of these freelance jobs is that many of them require only a unique skill, rather than a specific degree or work background.

Xerox Corp.

Xerox (XRX) has work-at-home job openings and offers flexible scheduling for many of its on-site employees. Available telecommuting jobs include executive recruiting, which requires a bachelor's degree and sales experience; part-time call center positions, which have no educational or background requirements; and project management, which requires several years of related experience.

The Top Types of Work-From-Home Jobs

Not all work-at-home jobs are for corporate employees. Many people work for firms as freelancers, choosing to form their own businesses – and, as noted in several instances above, companies are increasingly turning to these independent contractors to fill a variety of positions. Working from home also offers the opportunity for those who have the time and organizational skills to manage two or three jobs at once. It is not uncommon for enterprising types to eventually turn a freelance work-from-home job opportunity into a small business, even to the extent of employing others.

Here are some of the most common work-from-home options. Some are more on the unskilled/entry-level side, while others require specialized training and expertise. 

Virtual Assistant

Think of a virtual assistant as an off-site secretary. A traditional secretary comes with many expenses to a company, and if the company is small, it may not need a full-timer anyway. Virtual assistants work from home, often communicating with the boss via chat, Facetime, Slack or another real-time service. They can do most of what a traditional administrative assistant does—responding to emails, creating business documents, calling clients, scheduling appointments, handling social media, bookkeeping and data entry—but at a lower cost. Key talents for this sort of job include good communication skills and some office experience.

Translators

International companies need translators all the time. They may translate files and documents, or transcribe and translate conversations and conference calls. People who speak uncommon languages are even more in demand, and these home-based jobs are plentiful.

Call Center/Customer Service Representatives

Many companies, large and small, outsource their customer service work to home-based agents, and since customers may have trouble communicating with agents who speak English as a second language, or have heavy accents, a growing number of firms are trying to find more call-center workers situated in the U.S.

Most of these types of jobs entail inbound calls, helping people with orders or account information, but some also require outbound calling. Most also come with a set work schedule—though the pay is often by the hour (or sometimes minute), while you're on an actual call. The typical qualification needed for this type of job is good communication and people skills, with most employers requiring a background check. An outgrowth of the traditional customer service job is that of the chat agent, who answers customer questions live via the company's website or social media.

Data Entry and Transcription

Although they can be two different types of jobs, data entry and transcription jobs usually require the same skills and qualifications. Data entry involves entering facts and figures into a software program or spreadsheet. It could involve entering payroll data, catalog or inventory items, or working with a customer relationship management system.

Transcription work involves creating documents from audio files. This is typically done for businesses that need documentation of meetings, workshops, conference calls or podcasts. In most cases, the employer provides the software and content management system needed for the work. For both jobs, employers generally look for detail-oriented people with good typing skills.

Teacher/Tutor

With the growth of online education, there is a growing demand for online instructors. Virtual schools are popping up everywhere, offering elementary-, high school- and college-level programs of study, and their faculty can typically work from anywhere.

While many online teaching jobs require teaching credentials, jobs for online tutors do not (although an educational background is often desired). Tutors for advanced subjects, such as calculus and physics, can earn a higher hourly rate. There are also opportunities to simply do standardized test scoring at home. Scoring jobs may require a teaching background or a college degree, at a minimum.

Avoid the Scams

Obviously, work-at-home jobs have come a long way from those old "make money stuffing envelopes” ads. Still, for every legitimate gig, there are 57 scams, according to a study conducted by the job site Rat Race Rebellion. Anybody looking to earn a living without leaving home has to be very careful.

So, do your homework on a potential work-at-home employer. Make sure that the company is established. If you can't find evidence that it has a physical address and sells a product or service, then it's best to avoid it. Be sure to track down contact info too, and test it out. Many con artists pretend to be working for household-name corporations, either directly or as sub-contractors.

As with any job, there should be an application and probably an interview: Anybody who is legitimately looking to hire someone wants to meet, or at least talk to, applicants. Lastly, you shouldn't incur any out-of-pocket expenses to be hired. If a work-from-home opportunity requires you to pay a fee up-front or buy a “start-up kit” or make any other sort of sizable cash outlay, then it's probably a scam. You will, however, most likely need to invest in a fast, reliable internet connection, if you don’t already have one, and a high-quality audio headset.

Lessons and Tips for the Work-At-Home Life

Though the glittery and vastly appealing idea of being your own boss, setting your own hours and operating within your own four walls has merit—and definite benefits—it comes with a few drawbacks as well, for both the self-employed and the telecommuting employee.

1. Success (or Failure) Is Up to You

When you work from home, the amount of work you do is entirely your responsibility. Your failure or success depends on you—your ability to focus, to hustle, to connect with clients and the bottom line on what you produce and what you get paid for. When it's just you, at your desk, in your home office, you can't blame a pesky boss or chatty co-workers for your lousy or unproductive workday.

And even if you work as part of a virtual team, you're still the only team member around. Some folks love the thought of working in solitude, but even the most introverted among us can start feeling a little claustrophobic after a few weeks at home, alone, staring the same project in the face. It can get lonely. Be ready for that, and try to schedule some connect-with-the-outside-world time, like a lunch hour (even if you take it at 3 PM).

2. Stick to Your Work Schedule

Every person who has spent time working from a home base will have to deal with a lack of understanding from people who think working from home doesn't really mean working. The burden lies upon you to set your working hours, stick to them, actually work during those hours, and refuse to let anyone else dissuade you from the idea that you're truly employed.

Unfortunately, home life has its own distractions that can burn precious daylight and put well-meaning home workers behind on important projects. In addition to the typical interruptions in the nine-to-five (vendor calls, power outages, accidents, pet or child needs), there are personal boundaries that will continue to be pushed.

Close family members have to understand that you can't help them move during the workday, or even chat on the phone for an hour. Setting limits if you have children at home can be especially tough. On the positive side, letting kids see you work hard at something you love—even at the parts you don't love—can greatly influence their future career choices and entire attitude toward work.

3. You Can't Leave the Office

Efficiency and flexibility are two of the top ten reasons that people want to work from home, along with shorter hours (it's amazing what you could accomplish with eight straight hours of a keyboard pounding, uninterrupted by emails or daily staff meetings). But sometimes flexibility is too much of a good thing. When your office is always there, waiting, with that deadline looming over your head, it's pretty hard to just close the door and pretend you've left for the day. Many home-based workers find themselves working more hours, not fewer, logging in work time on nights and weekends, just because it's there and they can't ignore it.

It's true that many work-at-home professionals keep a five-hour day, as opposed to an eight-hour day. This does not mean, however, that they work less. Hours are often calculated as "billable hours," meaning that for every hour spent performing a task that they charge for, there are many minutes spent doing non-compensated administrative tasks.

4. You May Not Save Money

Without a daily commute, mandatory lunches and the cost of office-appropriate attire, it may seem that working from home will bring a boost to your budget. But there are additional costs that can crop up. The expense to set up an office may include laptops, printers, internet service, cell phones, business cards, web hosting, business services, and software. Forget about using your existing equipment for your business if you plan on taking the full cost of each as a tax write-off. Personal and business purchases need to be kept separate in order to comply with tax law.

So, hold on before you try to deduct half your mortgage for "office rent" or the entire cost of your internet. There are strict limits to what can be claimed as deductions or credits on your return. You can deduct valid work-related expenses, but only the percentage that is actually used for your work. So if you pay for an internet service that is also used by your spouse and children, and even yourself for non-work-related matters, you can't deduct the full cost – only the (estimated) portion that is exclusive to employment-related matters. The same goes for office supplies, telephone bills, and utilities.

If you're an independent contractor, you have to pay your own Social Security tax (the self-employment tax) and payroll taxes (an expense that most employers pay half of). So, generally, a sole proprietor won't see drastic cuts to his or her tax bill.

The Bottom Line

Working from home can be exciting, empowering and even profitable, provided you are realistic about the pros and cons. Whether you are a freelancer, a company part-timer, or a full-time employee who just doesn't hit the office on certain days, it's a way to escape the daily grind. But there are added responsibilities that come with freedom, not to mention planning, foresight, self-discipline, and focus. Oh, yes, and hours of uninterrupted hard work. As many home-based employees will tell you, it's not easier to work from home—it's just a different location.