lovely concept, but reality has its own wrinkles, including burning
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #341 May 7, 1996 High Tech Office column
column at home, on Sunday. When I'm done, I'll send it, as an Internet
mail message, to Business in Vancouver, where the editor will
read it and make his magic changes. I'm telecommuting--doing work
that used to be done in an office, without ever setting foot in the
company's building. I'm relying on computers and telecommunications
technology to keep the office and me in sync.
working from home and avoiding having to physically commute to work.
You can reduce pollution and parking pressure on the downtown. Spend
time with your kids. Companies can reduce the size of their offices
as more employees work off-site.
of the digital age, this one's taking longer than predicted to come
to pass, and when closely examined, it isn't quite so glowing as first
advertised. Working at home has its benefits, but it tends to raise
the amount of time spent at work. No more closing the door, getting
into the car, and leaving work behind: if you're at home, you're at
work. (I am, after all, writing this column on Sunday afternoon.) And
can you really spend time with the kids and get any work done?
more and more
employees are expected to do more and more of their work outside the
traditional workplace. The Gartner Group of Stamford,
estimates their ranks will reach 30 million Americans and 55 million
worldwide by 2000. And many of these will expect to be outfitted for
work by their employer , at an eye-opening cost. Cambridge,
Massachusetts' Forrester Research puts the average cost to
set up a telecommuter at about $5,500, with annual support costs of
about $3,000. Other reports suggest much of the cost (as much as 35
per cent, in one report) is wasted paying for the results of frustrated
workers trying to set up or repair their equipment, far from the
company's traditional support.
Canada recently experimented with telecommuting. A group of
was set up to work from home three days a week. While they found it
hard to quantify claims of increased productivity, they estimated
savings of about $1,500 per employee, partly in improvement in
but more through reductions in office space, employee parking and
sick leave. They tried to keep expenses down by using older, surplus
PCs in the home workplaces.
is a popular
option, at least in theory. Carlton University professor Linda
Duxbury polled professional and managerial employees, and claims
that 65 per cent of women and 52 per cent of men polled wanted the
chance to work from home. Nearly one-fifth of the 28,000 people
said that they sometimes worked at home during regular business hours,
but less than one per cent were actually full-time telecommuters.
increasing popularity for notebook computers--more and more businesses
need portable equipment that, rather than supplementing a machine
on the office desk, can replace it and go home with the employee from
time to time.
result, the market
for portable computers has pretty much split in three--on the one
hand, basic models with slower processors (486s, for example) and
passive-matrix (i.e. slow and washed-out) colour screens. Good for
word-processing, e-mail, and basic tasks. $3,000 or so. (There are
currently very good deals on the last-generation Macintosh Powerbooks,
but be aware that these machines will be unable to run Apple's
next-generation Copland operating system, even with the optional
other hand, there
are multimedia portables--heavier, but including CD-ROM, sound, and
bigger screens with bright, fast, active-matrix colour. Nice for sales
people wanting to impress clients on the road with a fancy
$7,000 or more. Pricey, but perhaps paid off after only a few
presentations lead to sales contracts.
there's the third
hand--machines aiming at completely replacing the traditional desktop.
Here, users have a different set of needs again--perhaps a docking
station or a port replicator at the back, allowing them to plug the
portable in and connect with the network and a collection of office
equipment. Users want power equivalent to the desktop machine they're
leaving behind, perhaps a 90-mhz Pentium or a PowerMac, 16 megs of
RAM and a large hard drive. Be prepared to pay for this--don't expect
to replace that office desktop's power and features with a portable for
less than $8,000.
portable means more prone to breakdown, and when it happens, that
expensive machine requires expensive parts, if you can find them at
all. In my case, I've been using a clone 486-66 portable for the past
eight months or so. But recently one morning, smoke poured out of the
corners of the screen for about 10 seconds and then the screen went
black. The rest of the computer's fine--it can be plugged into an
external monitor, but that somewhat limits its portability. The local
distributor was no help, claiming to no longer carry that model. The
national distributor has not returned any of a dozen calls.
And lest you
think I got
what I deserved for using a no-name brand, similar stories plagued
all brands last year. Apple, for example, recalled its top-of-the-line
model after a series of batteries caught on fire, including an incident
at Apple's headquarters.