THREE mornings a week, Shermaine Fitzgerald sends her three young children to school and childcare, and then commutes the few metres from the kitchen to her home office to take calls for insurance company AAMI.
On the occasional day one of the children is home sick, they have learnt to sit quietly and draw.
"They're amazing. They know if they don't behave, I will have to go back to the office and they love having me at home," said Ms Fitzgerald, of Gwandalan.
Another AAMI employee, Mark West, works from home three days a week to be near his 10-year-old son, whose school is visible from the balcony.
Apart from the occasional barking of two large great Dane crossbreed dogs, customers rarely know Mr West works from home.
If anything, they often said how quiet it was compared with noisy call centres.
The Hunter-based workers seem worlds away from an "electronic sweatshop", the term often used for call centres because of their high turnover and density of staff.
Work from home was touted five to six years ago as the next big thing. However, Australia had lagged behind the US, where many large call centres had realised that hiring stay-at-home parents delivered better retention rates and lower costs, said Tim Morse, a former senior partner with consultants McKinsey & Co.
Apart from Vodafone, which increased local reps because it found customers were sick of overseas reps, most companies continue to move service abroad.
AAMI is bucking the trend. Within a year, about 50 per cent of its service reps, of whom 80 per cent are parents, will be working from home offices. Many log on at night or early in the morning; others work during school hours.
"Our people love it so we want to continue expanding it," AAMI head of distribution Renae Bullen said.
The insurer has been testing two work-from-home models. In the Hunter, it is a privilege offered to existing service reps. In Narre Warren, Victoria, it is hiring work-from-home reps who live within 30 minutes of a hub that offers training or a change of scenery.
"Employee engagement is improved, customer experience is better if not the same, and turn-off and absenteeism is improved," Ms Bullen said.
Retention rates were also higher than the industry average.
Ms Fitzgerald said she worked harder because she wanted to continue the arrangement.
"Not all workplaces offer that. Because it suits my lifestyle, I really want to make sure it works."
Graham Howard, a consulting director with LimeBridge, which deals in customer experiences, said few companies in Australia were increasing their local customer service operations.
"The wage arbitrage is so great that if companies have got to improve the bottom line, offshoring is the simplest, quickest way of getting cost savings," he said.