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Telecommuting still limited, but growing.

While telecommuting is still a relatively limited phenomenon, it is growing in popularity as employees and organization like recognized the benefits it can bring.

A study by the Yankee Group, a Boston-based high technology market research firm, estimates that the number of formal telecommuting households in thee United States doubled from 1991 to 1992 to reach 2 million. The total number of employees telcommuting formaly and informally reached 8.8 million by 1992, a 35% increased over the previous year.

Formal telecommuting programs are defined as those implemeted as company policy by; employers. Informal telecommuting requires only the permission of the workers's immediate supervisor, the study says.

Slowing the implementaton of telecommuting programs is a tradional corporate culture uncomfortable with a workforce that manager can't see. However, in some firms, managers are overcoming their hesitation to find that telecommuting can benefit their company as well as the employees.

At Travelers. Insurance Co., a multiservice insurance and financial services firm based in Hartford, Conn., formal pilot telecommuting programs were startedin 1887. Today, about 20% of the company's 33,000 employees telecommute one or two days a week under formal and informal programs, says Gus Bender, second vice president of telecommunications. These telecommuters range from the programmers to claims processors. All have been with the company at least a year and have a proven work record.

"We think it's important to plan for telecommuting, especially with the Clean Air Act, the American Disabilities Act and the Family Leave act." Bender says.

Leading the way in encouraging telecommuting, the san Diego Telecommuting, the San Diego Telecommuting Association honoured San Diego County' program with a public sector award. The program grew from 14 participants in one department in 1990 to more than 350 participants in 17 departments today.

Mitchell International's private-sector program grew from six telecommuters to 40. The company,s computer purchase program helps employees set up home offices.

Telecommuter of the Year was Salam Hasenin of the city of San Diego, who telecommutes regularly and coordinates his department's 20-participant program. Kevin Ham was slauted for developing the first neighborhood telework centre in the United States, working closely with pacific Bell and the City of Coronado.

"We find that a employees working at home are highly productive, becuase they are immune to the typical business interruptions you find in the office," Bender says.

Training fo telecommuters is minimal, Bender says, becuase it isn't difficult for employees to figure out on their own how to dial into the network using company-furnished PCs and easy-to-use communication software. Linking into the company's network, they gain access to E-mail, claims processing and other application, groupware and information databases.

Their work is facilitated by the company's heavy usage of electronic media, which is helping Travelers eliminate unnecessay meetings and disruptive calls.

Telecommuting lets travelers retain valued employees who, for various reasons, found in difficult to come into the office every day, Bender says.

"By allowing them to work in their homes, we could keep them, keep customer service at a very high level and reduce retraining and hiring expenses.

Also, he says, with the introduction of telecommuting, "One ofs the most interesting things was that morale increased quite a bit even for those people who weren't working at home, becuase they knew the program was available if they needed it."

Informal telecommuting also is popular at the centre for Biomolecular Science and Engieering on the U.S. Naval Research lab in Washington, D.C.

Barry Spargo, Ph.D., a researcdh biologist who oversees the telecommuting program, say about 30 of the center's 100 scientists telecommute periodically and have done so for several years.

"It gives people options about way to maintan interaction with the lab and stay on top of things when they can't be here, either because of illness in the family or travel." Scientists who telecommute work on Pcs and Apple Macintosh computers. They connect into the lab's LAN through Shiva Corp.'s LanRover/E for NetWare or LanRover/E for Apple Talk Remote servers and work using the same commands as they would in the office. Over the network, they send and recieve copy, exchange E-mail messages and conduct searches of databases on a LAN's servers or in a PC server in the lab's library, accessible through a wide area network to which the LAN is linked.

Telecommuting hasn't cut the scientists' workload, but it has given them more flexibility.

"Because we're research personnel we aren't bound by 'eight to five, boundaries. Many of us go home and continue to work in the evening. If I didn't have the ability to call in from home, i would work here more," Spargo says.

By the mid-to-late 1990s the Yankee Group study indicates, as many as 80% of employers will have to adopt remote work in order to compete in world markets becuase of environmental requrements and the need to interact with skilled workers miles away and unable or unwilling to move.

The study says that fully intergrated technologies, including those that enable dozens of telecommuters to simultaneously access LANs or that extend LANs for many miles, will enable tomorrow's telecommuters to work whatever they are.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on pros and cons of telecommuting
Author:Lavallee, Wendy J.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Dec 1, 1993
Previous Article:Kodak saves $2 million with consolidated billing system.
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