- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

Depending on who's talking, between 40 percent and 50 percent of America's labor force will spend some time working from home by 2010. Latest estimates say about 21 million employees are counted in the work-at-home labor force.

Anna Morris, the concierge for Westin Hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., telecommutes from Antioch 75 miles northeast of her office.

In fact, she videoconferences to her post in the front of the hotel and talks to people from a big screen monitor in the lobby. "Sometimes my customers don't know if I'm real or available for service," she says. "They just don't expect a video to talk to them. But they get over it really quick."

Mrs. Morris was interviewed on Telecommute.org (www.telecommute.org). Her round-trip commute of almost four hours soon became just a few seconds when she gave up the driving commute and now sits in her home in front of the videoconferencing equipment in her home in an area decorated like the hotel.

She starts at 7 a.m., working with guests via the big screen.

She works a split shift, stopping at noon for a break with her two children and her mother, who looks after them. Then there's still time to start dinner and run a few errands before signing on for her second shift from 5 to 8 p.m.

She helps hotel guests find their way around the Silicon Valley, creating special maps, faxing driving directions, making restaurant reservations and arranging tickets to special events. "I have everything I need at my fingertips digitized maps, ticket agency contacts, menus, brochures the works," she says. "It's curious, but my clients pay more attention to the directions I give over video than they do when I'm there in person."

Working from home takes a bit of planning. Occupational Hazards magazine (www.occupationalhazards.com) provides a checklist on the necessary steps to begin telecommuting.

• Conduct a workplace hazard assessment. Employees should be trained to recognize workplace hazards and fill out an inspection form for review by the employer. Sample forms can be found at www.act.ucsd.edu/policy/commute/check.html and www.tasc.dot.gov/hrm/telecommute.html.

• Assess furniture and equipment. The equipment used at work should be the standard for the home work environment, especially when proper ergonomics is taken into account.

• Check electrical connections. There should be enough outlets to support the required operation of electronic equipment. Plugs should include three-pronged ground configuration and equipment plugged into surge protectors.

• Check fire safety. A fire extinguisher is a must, as is an operable smoke detector. A fire escape plan should be devised and practiced.

• Check indoor air quality. Even though you may be at your own house, to optimize your working environment, smoking should be discouraged to create good indoor air quality. Other issues include: mold, airborne asbestos, molds, animal dander, lead-based paint, carbon monoxide and radon.

• Clear the walkways. Watch out for all the electrical and phone cords.

The required investment for telecommuting keeps growing. No longer will a simple dial-up Internet access account work. Most corporations have high-speed access, such as DSL or T-1 lines. Nevertheless, builders are getting the message and beginning to churn out smart homes that have all the comforts of a fast-paced office environment.

Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based Allied Business Intelligence Inc. estimates that nearly 800,000 houses will have structured wiring by 2004 that's growth of 800 percent over 1999. Structured wiring relies on cables and other wiring, which run into a central distribution hub much like the hub at work. The cost ranges from $700 to $2,000.

Wireless technology, still in the testing stages for most companies, keeps growing. Once it is perfected and permeates the work force, then the teleworker can literally take his caseload on the road.

World Information Technologies Inc., a market research firm in Northport, N.Y., estimates that nearly 50 percent of homes that have home networks will be using wireless technologies by 2003. In 1999, only 9 percent used wireless technologies.

While you may be ready to dump the commute and work from the home front, the real question remains: Is your house ready?

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 12 years. Contact him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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