Telecommuting Hums Along

January 21, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

When Christine Snyder woke up to find a thick sheet of ice around her Hunt Valley home yesterday, she decided not to go to the office, but that didn't mean she took the day off.

Ms. Snyder, a partner in the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse, just threw on her sweatsuit, sat down in front of her personal computer, tapped into her office data banks and got down to work. "The business is continuing to hum," she said.

From icebound Baltimore to earthquake-stricken Los Angeles, many businesses continued to hum yesterday even though workplaces were dark and deserted. It's been a tragic, brutal week, but it's been great for telecommuting. Twenty years from now, historians of the workplace might look on Jan. 16-22, 1994, as the week American managers began to seriously reconsider the role of the office.

There is no way to count how many Americans swelled the ranks of America's estimated 7.6 million telecommuters because of this week's natural calamities. But clearly, many workers who otherwise might have ventured onto the roads stayed put -- confident that they could get as much or more work done at home.

Dave Collins, manager of regulatory planning for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland, decided yesterday that a two-hour commute from icy Bel Air to snowy Baltimore would do nothing to improve his state of mind as he prepared some important testimony. So he cranked up his rather primitive PC, left a message on voice mail and settled down to work.

"Personally I've had a very productive day," he said. "I got through all the testimony that I wanted to."

The Towson headquarters of the accounting firm Walpert Smullian & Blumental were closed because of the weather yesterday, but partner Alfred Whiteman estimated that the business was running at about 60 percent efficiency on what would have been a lost day only five or 10 years ago.

"Between voice mail and fax and tapping into the computer, you can work anywhere," said Mr. Whiteman, who estimated that he had been able to get 80 percent of his usual work done from home yesterday.

"It's hard to have a 100 percent day when you have children," he said.

On the West Coast, the case for telecommuting was even more compelling. Many stretches of Southern California's freeways were closed because overpasses had buckled in Monday's earthquake, creating mind-boggling traffic jams along the remaining commuting routes.

Linda Bonniksen, a public relations spokeswoman for Pacific Bell, hasn't seen her Los Angeles office since the earthquake hit early Monday morning. But she's never been busier.

Since then, Ms. Bonniksen has been running an information command post out of her home in Orange County, armed with a PC, voice mail, electronic mail, cellular phone, printer and a fax machine -- most of them bought by her employer. She believes she's been more effective than if she had gone into the office.

"I have found in this particular crisis, it's just made good sense not to get into the fray of the traffic anywhere," she said.

Ms. Bonniksen said that in the wake of the earthquake, Pacific Bell received unsolicited calls from about 150 large employers expressing interest in telecommuting programs.

"They know that if they try to do business as usual, they're putting their employees through a four-hour commute for work," she said. Highway authorities say some of Southern California's freeways could take more than a year to repair. "The concrete freeway is dead and the electronic superhighway is open and it's doing business at the speed of light," she said.

In response to the demand, Pacific Bell announced yesterday what it called a "telecommunting relief package," including free installation of services that would help people in Southern California telecommute.

The package will include the enhanced digital phone connection called ISDN -- for integrated services digital network, which is needed to run some sophisticated programs connecting the home and the workplace. It will also let employees put extensions of their employers' Centrex and PBX systems into their homes.

The telephone company also said it would work with telecommunications equipment manufacturers to try to offer discounts on modems, fax machines and telephone sets.

Dave Pacholczyk, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic Corp., said the company now has no concerted program to discount services for home office, but that it was something the company would have to consider.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.