Keeping the home fires burning

I'm lucky in that I have a job that only requires a fast internet connection and a phone with a dial tone to be productive and remain gainfully employed. I tried working from home when I was a restaurant manager but they weren't keen for some reason.

I don't use my alarm clock much any more.

Just before 8am each day I hear Peter, my next-door neighbour, back his car down the driveway past our house, his reverse beeper going like the clappers. This is my cue to get up and saunter to the bathroom, pausing only to fire up the PC on the way past.

Yes, I work from home; I get to saunter in my dressing gown.

I must say I'm surprised more people aren't doing it. I'm far more productive now I'm out of the office [some beg to differ -- Ed]. A plus is that I don't have to face that terrible car commute thing or, worse, a bus with perennially sick people on it. Speaking of snotty handkerchiefs, I don't have to worry when all my colleagues start dropping like flies because I'm -- virtually -- untouchable.

I'm also happier to be at home watching my little girl learn how to grab one hand with the other than I was sitting in the office tea room listening to people talk about what they did last Friday night or what they're going to do next Friday night.

I'm lucky, I suppose, in that I have a job that only requires a fast internet connection and a phone with a dial tone to be productive and remain gainfully employed. I tried working from home when I was a restaurant manager but they weren't keen for some reason. It worked out in the end: I quit and now when I go to restaurants I eat like a king and tip like a fool.

Working from home has its ups and downs. On the plus side, if a story breaks late in the day I can nail it before dinnertime without having to stay in the office. On the minus side, if a story breaks late in the day I have to nail it before dinnertime. PR people ring my work number and get me at home so they can ask me about whether I've received their press releases or not. The truly sad part is that my favourite desktop application, Call Manager, refuses to tell me who's calling any more.

I almost miss the office gossip unless I badger someone to keep me up to date via instant messaging. I also thought I was out of the office meeting loop completely, but I am required to attend a weekly editorial meeting, which tickles me pink.

What I didn't realise until today is just how much money I'm saving the economy. Telecommuting has saved AT&T $US25 million in real estate costs, according to Braden Allenby, an AT&T executive. "We just sold our corporate headquarters -- we don't need it anymore," he says.

He estimates workforce productivity gains of about $US65 million, primarily the result of time saved by not having to drive to work.

Putting aside the New Zealand car industry for a moment (oh, we did that already? Okay then), surely that kind of figure translates well to the new Knowledge Economy we get to hear so much about? Wouldn't it make sense for more of us to do this?

As I've said before, broadband access is the key. I couldn't get the Lotus Notes database to work remotely on anything less than 2Mbit/s, and frankly even then it can be a bit of fun. On dial-up it would be impossible.

So why is it that so few managers are keen to allow their staff to work remotely? Is it because they're scared of losing control? Get over it, if that's the case. If the employee doesn't cope well without micro-management then get them back in the office where you can keep an eye on them. Of course, if you have an employee who can't be trusted to work independently then perhaps you need to review their contract with them.

As I say, I work harder and turn in more stories than I ever did sitting in the office [er, once again ... Ed], and I'm happier to go that extra mile for a story because I know I don't have to stay late to do it.

Says Allenby: "Teleworkers are very enthusiastic about teleworking, and so are their families." He claims 82% believe telecommuting gives them a better balance of work and family life.

Why not give it a go?

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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