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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
August 22, 1995
Page D3
Home work has special benefits
Telecommuters find that they can structure their time and work to fit their needs. Employers save time and money when workers are at home.
By Stewart Ugelow
STAFF WRITER

When Paul Jones has a particularly thorny matter on his mind, he leaves his Durham office and plays a few holes of golf across the street.

He doesn’t have to worry about what his co-workers might think. Since July, he’s worked by himself, in an office above his garage.

When Jones agreed to leave his job at a Raleigh law firm to join a Columbia, S.C., company as vice president for business development, he insisted that he be allowed to remain in the Triangle.

"I didn’t want to move to Columbia," Jones says. "I can make an argument that, with the type of work I do, I’m more productive here than in an office with the distractions."

So he added a few phone lines to his garage and joined the burgeoning ranks of telecommuters, people who use technology to work from home or away from their traditional offices.

For employees, telecommuting offers the chance to bypass rush-hour traffic, to spend time with their families and to work at their own pace without managers hovering over them.

For employers, telecommuting cuts down on office overhead and costly corporate real estate.

Some 9.1 million employees worked at home during business hours for at least one day per month last year, up from 7.6 million the year before, according to FIND/SVP, an Ithaca, N.Y., research firm.

Work-at-home arrangements aren’t for everyone, employers and workplace consultants warn. An employee, of course, has to maintain a good supply of self-discipline. And for employers, telecommuting loses its appeal as a productivity booster if managers don’t trust home-workers or refuse to offer the necessary support to make it work.

Although the Triangle does not have the same traffic pressures inspiring telecommuting as cities like Los Angeles, it is slowly taking hold here nonetheless.

Some big employers such as IBM Corp. are giving increasing numbers of employees the chance to work at home. Computer retailers say their fastest-growing segment is the "soho," or small office/home office market. And even phone companies and office furniture retailers are beginning to capitalize on the trend.

Within a few months, GTE South, which has run local advertisements encouraging people to telecommute, will offer new service options for telecommuters, including connectivity, consulting and support. The local phone provider serves Durham and Research Triangle Park.

"GTE is trying to put together a complete package for working at home," says David Bryant, senior network engineer.

As part of the package, GTE will promote high-speed, high-capacity phone lines called ISDN, for integrated services digital network. One ISDN line can support two phone lines, making it ideal for home workers who want one line for voice and one line for a fax machine or modem. Prices range from $50 to $75 month, with a surcharge for data usage.

Triangle office supply stores say they are seeing more orders for home office equipment. Those computers, printers, and fax machines require furniture.

"We have more and more people coming in here saying they are working at home," says Angie Lebitz, showroom manager for Alfred Williams and Co., a Raleigh office supplier. "That’s been happening for at least the past year. We’ve noticed a significant increase."

A typical home office configuration might cost between $2,500 and $3,000, Lebitz said.

But employees who work at home don’t have to bear the full cost of a home office. Some Triangle companies are starting to pick up portions of the tab.

IBM Corp.’s Research Triangle Park operation now pays for phone lines for nearly half of its employees who do some sort of work at home, spokesman Jay Cadmus says.

For employees like Gary Brown, the company sometimes supplies computers, too.

Brown, who provides on-line customer support, has worked out of his home in Cary off and on for 10 years and full time since October.

What he may lose in office camaraderie, he says, he makes up for in productivity. "I’m relaxed, I’ve got music going," Brown says. "There’s no office chit-chat, no telephone ringing, no background noise. It allows you to write more politely.