are still some
wrinkles to work out, but telecommuting is becoming more viable
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #312 October 17, 1995 High Tech Office column
worse than ever? Instead of sitting and fuming, you might want to
consider whether your job (and your employer) would be amenable to
telecommuting--working away from the office, but keeping connected
using computers and telecommunication tools.
example. I'm typing it on a notebook computer in my living room, on
a Friday night, while the kids are watching bad sitcoms a room away.
When it's done, I will send it to BIV as part of an Internet
mail message. Through these sorts of technologies, I can produce a
weekly column, while needing to stop by the office only once every
couple of months or so.
more active connection with data on computers in the office--but it's
becoming more and more common to connect right into the office network,
or even, using remote control software, to actually run applications
located on computers in the office. With the right hardware and
you're no longer limited to data or software that's on your computer
form or another,
telecommuting is a growing fad. An estimated 40 million North Americans
work at least some of the time outside a traditional workplace. Cell
phones and laptops have helped make this trend possible, along with
the rise in software and hardware aimed at small-business and
users. Much of this technology has been aimed at people whose jobs
take them on the road a lot--sales reps, for example.
Burnaby's GDT Softworks, for example, has been working with the
Cantel Mobitex network, offering a cellular
modem package, InfoWave, which allows travelling workers to stay in
touch with their
data at home office from anywhere in Canada, even when they lack a
phone jack to plug in a more traditional modem.
seen jobs move from a centralized head office to satellite offices,
closer to where employees live; BC Tel has been moving jobs
to these sorts of offices, cutting workers' commute time.
companies can get employees out of the office entirely. When computer
manufacturer Compaq moved its sales staff out of headquarters
to work from home, they reported a $10-million drop in costs combined
with a 20-per-cent productivity gain. Obviously, not every job can
be carried out at home, either totally or partly, but more jobs may be
'telecommutable' than you think.
idea of working
at home is popular, telecommuting does give rise to many questions
and potential drawbacks. Who buys the equipment? Will your company
spring for a computer, a fax machine or fax modem, and software? How
about a desk and extra phone line, or insurance on the home office
and equipment? (Estimates suggest the initial cost of getting set up to
telecommute is about $5,000, with another $2,500 per year to maintain
the home worker).
workers' comp cover
you if you trip and break a leg while getting a cup of coffee in the
kitchen in the middle of your workday? Can you handle your own computer
problems, far away from the company's support network, or the
co-worker? Is your data as secure on your home computer as it
is on the company network? Will you miss the social contact with
in a busy office? Who's taking care of the kids?
One of the
of working at home is the possibility of doing away with childcare.
But reality soon returns--you're not going to be very productive trying
to do your job and take care of kids at the same time, and both will
suffer. Will the dog barking at the letter carrier interrupt an
business phone conversation? And does working from home really mean
that your workday now extends from morning until late at night? No
more leaving the work behind you when you leave the office.
organizations is how best to manage home workers. Traditional time
clocks are no longer appropriate--telecommuters become more like
paid by results.
it seems likely that we'll see more and more people telecommuting.
Successful telecommuters are happier and more productive, while saving
money for their employers, who no longer need such large offices.
And everyone we can keep off the highways into town is, of course,
benefiting us all by helping to reduce air pollution and rush hour