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Telecommuting: meeting the challenge.

During the next few years, two forces will begin to transform what we now know as "the office" -- forces to which organizations must respond.

These forces are: growing concern about energy supplies and the environment, spurred by legislative mandates, taxes, and opportunities for bottom-line benefit; and, a shift in the work force away from the traditional nine-to-five, at-the-desk approach.

Employers must accommodate these forces for change in ways that preserve productivity and cost-effectiveness, enabling employees to get their jobs done even as the rules change.

For example, in the U.S., government agencies at all levels, from city and county through state and national, are rapidly enacting mandates to reduce the number of commuter vehicles on the road. Their actions include trip-reduction and air-quality statutes, and even taxes based on the size of a company's parking lot. Cost-conscious employers are looking for ways to control their need to build and maintain office space. And, who wouldn't like to spend less time on the road?

At the same time, an increasing number of people are ready to do more work outside of the traditional office. Many, in fact, prefer to work from, home for a variety of reasons, including the demands of parenting, "eldercare", health and disabilities. Reducing commute time and costs are also strong motivators, particularly when the weather makes driving conditions slow and treacherous.

In short, non-traditional work hours and locations are becoming desirable, even necessary for more and more of us. For their part, organizations looking to retain -- not replace -- staff are seeking ways to accommodate employees' needs without hurting the bottom line. And, in particular, those organizations in urban centres with hundreds or thousands of employees need to begin addressing the legislative, economic and staffing changes at hand.

ALL ROADS LEAD TO TELECOMMUTING

Personal desktop/portable computers, plus networks, which have already come to the rescue of millions of information-oriented workers, offer a powerful and affordable solution, in the form of telecommuting.

Telecommuting is defined as working at a location apart from the traditional office, using personal computers as the work tool and telecommunications to link these remote personal computers with an organization's central computer systems. The telecommuter may work at home, at a field site, or even on the road.

Major manufacturers, government agencies and other public service organizations, engineering firms, educational and medical institutions and insurance companies increasingly are using telecommuting and home-based work methods.

Who can telecommute? Lots of people, including engineers, programmers, educators, business executives, researchers, marketers, accountants, administrative support staff, writers, stockbrokers, customer service representatives, and document processors. According to trend-spotter, Faith Popcorn, the decentralization which communication technology makes possible is spurring the move to home-based work. Today, Popcorn says, some 16 million corporate employees work at home, part-time or full-time. Some of this work is done informally or outside regular business hours.

However, Popcorn reports that 3.4 million of these corporate workers have formal work-at-home arrangements and that the flexibility which home-based work provides is becoming the newest corporate pre-requisite.

There is at least one compelling reason for this increase. Many companies and government agencies which provide telecommuting options report not only increased employee productivity but also improved employee job satisfaction. Telecommuting seems to be a genuine rarity, a solution that complies with government regulations, benefits the environment, and improves the corporate bottom-line.

TELECOMMUTING WITH LANs

Today's PCs and workstations offer sufficient power for most of us to work independently. But, computing power is only half of the solution. Most workers need some degree of access to group, departmental and corporate data -- files, databases and programs whose importance, number of users, and size require that they be housed and managed by a central staff. Increasingly, these information resources are stored so that users access them through local area networks (LANs).

But, in addition to access to information resources, we need to communicate with other people in our organization, customers and suppliers. We need to transmit completed reports, documents and files; exchange electronic mail; send files to the printer; perhaps even access programs for scheduling; and, to work with shared information databases. Again, LANs have become the access and connection mechanism for all these activities.

Telecommuters, therefore, need access to their organizations' LANs, access as similar as possible to what is available to workers who actually are at the office, working at systems physically attached to corporate LANs.

REACH IN AND JOIN THE LAN

New telecommunications products and new services from local telephone companies are making it possible for remote, standalone PC and workstation users to join their organizations' LANs, regardless of locations. These products include devices known as high-speed networking modems. (The new services from telephone companies include offerings known as integrated services digital network (ISDN) Basic Rate and DDS 56/64) Kbps.

These products and services improve on earlier methods of reaching LANs from remote locations. For example, dialing in with modems and traditional communications software is useful for accessing electronic bulletin boards or time-shared computers, but it is not an adequate substitute when an organization's network is built on LANs.

WHY NOT?

For users accustomed to working with LANs, uploading and downloading files manually is very time consuming, and it forces them to learn and use two very different ways of working. More complex activities, such as accessing databases stored on the LAN, become anywhere from extremely difficult to unfeasible.

Workstations equipped with the appropriate software and communications gear can establish network connections, accessing an organization's LANs as needed to retrieve and return files, exchange electronic mail, and carry out other tasks, all in a manner that demands little change in the way the telecommuter is used to working. There is no retraining, and there is no need to support two work methods.

Supporting LAN telecommuters can bring significant benefits to organizations. They avoid the need to purchase and install additional software, or to make changes to their data structures and formats. And, they preserve their investment in existing, standard PCs and workstations for home-based employees.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:personal computers hooked to local area networks allow home-based work
Author:Luczak, Mark
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1992
Words:998
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