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How Telecommuting Works

Using Technology to Telecommute
With today's communication technology, telecommuting is easier than ever.
With today's communication technology, telecommuting is easier than ever.
© ­Photographer: David Phillips | Agency: Dreamstime

Without technology, especially Internet-based technology, telecommuting, at least as it's known today, would be impossible.

But the move toward home-based workers was well underway before the Internet explosion. According to Robert Moskowitz, president of the American Telecommuting Association, the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake provided an impetus for thousands to work at home. As quoted in an August 2006 article in Boston Business Journal, Moskowitz said the quake prompted companies to quickly implement telecommuting programs as a necessity. Telecommuting, therefore, grew steadily before the Internet or other considerations came along, he said.

Before the Internet boom, telecommuters relied heavily on simple landline telephones to communicate with the office, and fax machines and delivery services to share information or work.

There's no doubt the Internet has taken telecommuting to an even more practical realm. The American Telecommuting Association says personal computers are common among those who work from home. Companies often allow their workers whose primary duties involve computer work to telecommute before others. A computer -- desktop or laptop -- is probably the most basic telecommuting technology. Everything else is tied to it.

A computer by itself, however, is of little use to the telecommuter. To be used, it must have the means of communicating with other computers, especially those in the home office. This can be done through basic Internet software and e-mail. In some cases, a company may prefer to connect a telecommuter's computer directly into its network. A basic security password enabled from a Web page often will do this trick. Other online services, such as GoToMyPC, allow a worker to tap into his office computer from any remote location, taking the telecommuting experience mobile. In most cases, a high-speed Internet connection is a must.

Software needs will vary with your duties, but it's a safe bet you'll need basic word processing, spreadsheet and database software. Graphics software, such as photo and drawing programs, can be essential to workers whose jobs involve working with images. Also, it's highly likely you'll need Web conferencing software, which'll allow you to participate in company meetings online. Reliable Internet and e-mail software is also a must, as is high quality security/anti-virus software.

Many employers have standardized computing requirements for their employees who work at home. Vanderbilt University, for instance, outlines both standard desktop and a "graphics intensive" package for its telecommuting employees. The standards spell out both minimum and optimal system requirements in hardware, software and connectivity. You'll need to check with your employer or clients to ensure your computer technology is both compatible and high enough quality.

Other technology you may want to invest in includes a fax machine with a dedicated phone line (if you use it a lot), a cell phone/smartphone, pager and printer/copier. If you do a lot of work with graphics, it may pay to invest in a high-quality scanner. Your computer should come equipped with a CD/DVD burner, to help you archive important work. You may also need a wireless router if you like to tote your laptop around the house to work.

Why are employees who work at home happier? Find out why on the next page.