ISSUE 477: The high-tech office- Dec
New software allows stay-at-home workers
to be fully connected to the head office
Computers are supposed to make everything
better, right? While most of us would find ourselves lost at work
without these wonder machines, the reality is rarely as bright, clean
and easy as the hype claims.
Promises are cheap, but where's the "paperless
office"? Web commerce is promising, but hasn't yet saved me from
lining up at the supermarket.
And how many of us have actually gained the freedom to
Like other high tech promises, there is a basis in
reality. But for right now, it seems as if we're straddling the past
and the future, hurtling along at a pace that gives us a whole new set
of problems before we've learned how to overcome the last.
California-based software company Symantec is
one firm that offers a range of utilities to help us overcome some of
the glitches and gotchas that keep technology from living up to its
promise in the area of telecommuting.
One of Symantec's latest products,
pcTelecommute, is aimed squarely at stay-
at-home workers. The company's product line has long targeted employees
work at home. That includes WinFax Pro, which turns a PC into a
fax machine, and pcAnywhere, which enables telecommuters to control
their computer back at the office.
PcTelecommute builds on technology from those two
products. Along with the faxing and remote control features offered by
the original packages, it offers call management, work logging, file
transfers and synchronization. All these features were available to
telecommuters before now, but pcTelecommute offers them in a single
package that's attractive and easy to use.
The program's Work Monitor keeps track of hours
worked, calls and faxes made and received, and files created and
modified. It is useful for at-home workers who are called upon to
verify their productivity. (Of course, some of us may prefer to not be
so accountable. Luckily, the work log is easily editable.)
DayEnd Sync reminds users at the end of the workday
which files have changed and offers to automatically put the files in
sync with the office computer.
Building on the phone company's Caller ID service,
Call Screening reveals who's calling by flashing a message on the
computer screen. This is just one of several products that marry
computers and phone services by using the PC to get around the tiny
screen and keypad built into telephones.
The pcAnywhere technology allows users to shuttle
files back and forth between home and office, and can allow company
help-desk workers -- if they're running Symantec's pcAnywhere -- to
better support off-site employees. The remote access features go beyond
file shuttling -- at-home users can even run applications on their
office PC and view the results on their home computer. The program also
has faxing capability in the form of a scaled-down version of the
company's WinFax Pro.
All these features are accessed in a well-designed
Telecommute Control Center, an on-screen toolbar offering one-click
availability to the program's power. For instance, you can send a fax
by simply dragging a document file's icon and dropping it on the
Control Center's fax button.
The handholding goes further. Installation is guided
by "wizards" that help to set up and customize both home and office
systems. The package also includes tips and video clips designed to
make the user a successful telecommuter.
The product's licence allows a user to legally install
a single copy of the program onto two computers, one at home and one in
another location. This means you can connect your home computer to your
office computer without having to buy two copies of the program.
Some of the software's capabilities are
modem-dependent. For example, if you want to get the most of this
product, make sure that your modem model specifically supports Caller
The package costs about $149 and includes June
Langhoff's book, The Telecommuter's Advisor: Working in the
Fast Lane, and a phone line splitter.
A free, 30-day trial version is avail-able from the
company's Web site (www.