Beating the commute

As the world gets smaller and technology advances, some Jerusalem residents are taking advantage of the global phenomenon of telecommuting to avoid train rides altogether. Telecommuting is defined as working from home and "commuting" to work through the Internet, phone and fax. Yitz Wolf, a graphic and Web designer from Toronto, came to Jerusalem two years ago and currently lives in Katamon, but still runs his Canada-based business from his apartment. Although he loves the advantages of telecommuting, he sees some room for improvement in the way Israeli businesses provide a conducive environment. "It takes two weeks for an international check to clear [at the bank]," he explains. "And once it clears you then have to contact the bank and ask them to transfer the money into shekels. I work in a fast-paced business, but the whole payment process slows everything down." He calls the whole process "very archaic." One major question that comes up for telecommuters is how to represent, or not, that one is working in Israel. Wolf lists Canadian addresses on his Web site. "An Israeli address could deter people," he says. Becky Brygel of Jerusalem uses voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) and special software to conduct Web-based meetings for her company Surgimate, which develops software for surgical scheduling. "We don't market ourselves as an Israeli company," she says. "People want to see that you're there and available. It's not that we're not proud to be here, but understand that we have clients in Dakota and Florida who are scared of Israel. We do a lot of active marketing overseas." There are other challenges as well, a major one being abnormal work hours. Brygel does training sessions with clients between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight and often gets calls in the middle of the night. "You've just got to make yourself sound presentable," she says. Wolf also receives late-night calls and has to sound more awake than he actually is, but for the most part works his own hours. "We communicate mostly via email. But sometimes I get woken up. It's all a part of the business." Daniella Slasky, director of employment for Nefesh B'Nefesh, sees the technological phenomenon as helping more people make aliya. "It really encourages olim and provides for an easy landing," she says, estimating that between 20 and 25 percent of new Anglo olim are commuting or telecommuting, and says that it has been growing every year since Nefesh B'nefesh started in 2002. In terms of the obvious pros and cons, both business owners echo the fact that they feel slightly removed from Israeli professional society, but at the same time don't have to meet the demands of bosses with whom there may be cultural divides. There are other advantages too, as Wolf explains: "After assessing the calculations of my various job offers in Jerusalem, I realized that I could sleep in, work 3 hours a day at home, go to the Dead Sea and come back for what they would pay me for 9-5 work in my field. I just can't rationalize it."