How to Beat the Backup: Phone from Home

  • Bruce Schneier
  • MacWEEK
  • July 27, 1992

If you’re not looking at telecommuting yet, you soon might have to. The 1990 amendments to the Federal Clean Air Act require states to enact strict clean-air policies, and by 1996 all businesses with more than 100 employees at sites classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “severe” or “extreme” will be required to reduce the number of cars commuting to their locations.

Regulation XV, enforced in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties in California, is the most aggressive air-quality legislation in the world, imposing fines of up to $25,000 a day for violators. In Northern California, the San Francisco Bay area is drafting Rule 13, which promises to be just as stringent.

To comply with such regulations and allow employees to avoid in reasingly congested commutes, many companies are looking toward te ecommuting alternatives:

  • Working at home. The most popular form of telecommuting is where the employee works at home either full time or several days a week. True to his title, Steve Elston, telecommuting project manager at Pacific Bell, works at his San Ramon, Calif., home one to two days a week. Using AppleTalk Remote Access and Shiva Corp.’s LanRover/L, Elston dials into PacBell’s network with his Mac SE. “Working at home gives me concentrated blocks of work time, without meetings or telephone interruptions,” Elston said.
  • Satellite offices. Some companies are setting up remote office locations closer to em loyee residences, with telecommunications links to the main office. Employees still commute to the satellite offices, but the drive is quicker and easier.

    Pacific Bell maintains a remote office in San Francisco, saving 24 employees a commute to San Ramon that sometimes took two hours. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is considering creating two satellite offices next year – one in Santa Cruz County and another in San Jose, Calif. – which could reduce daily commute times for some employees by up to an hour.

  • Neighborhood work centers. Companies that cannot afford to set up a satellite office can sometimes rent space at a neighborhood work center. At these sites, employees from different companies are housed in the same work location and perhaps even share resources.

In Riverside, Calif., the Telecommuting Work Center of Riverside County has been set up as a publicly and privately funded two-year demonstration project. Employees of TRW Inc., IBM Corp., Southern California Edison and Pacific Bell go to the Riverside center instead of driving into downtown Los Angeles. Each employee has a private office or cubicle, and everyone shares fax and photocopy machines, office supplies, an exercise room and kitchen area, as well as the services of a work center receptionist. Companies must supply their own hardware and pay for their own phone lines. Private offices cost $100 a month, and cubicle space is free.

The Riverside center originally expected to serve more than the 50 tenants a week who now work there, said manager Linda Morton. “The major factor is the economy. Many businesses are downsizing and have unoccupied space in their own offices,” she said. “So even though we basically give the space away, people are not taking advantage of it.”

Said PacBell’s Elston, “Neighborhood work centers are popular as funded research products, but the key question is whether they can be self-sustaining market enterprises.”

History seems to point in both directions. The Hawaii Teleworks Center on Oahu is profitable and even is expanding. On the other hand, the Puget Sound Work Center in the Seattle area went out of business after it lost public funding.

Categories: Non-Security Articles

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.