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Telecommuting: The Global Cubicle

by John Mattox

People all over the world are always asking me, "John, how is it that you are so wealthy, good-looking, well-liked and successful, yet you can still find the time to attend fabulous parties such as this?" I simply tell them, "Well, I telecommute on my free time!" Okay, so maybe I'm not exactly rich. Maybe I look less like Richard Gere, and more like his stunt double. Perhaps its true that I've flunked out of more social circles than Madonna and Saddam Hussein put together; but the bit about the free time is true.

Telecommuting (or teleworking) refers to working at home as part of a regular job with an established company. This allows you to adjust your work schedule to fit around your personal life, and not vice versa. Of course, some people have always worked at home, and home-based businesses are nothing new. What is new is that, with telecommuting, many people who traditionally would have worked in an office environment with lots of other people are now working at home. As you might imagine, this creates a variety of problems, as people need to adjust to the logistical and social consequences of being by oneself. Nevertheless, for most of us Web junkies out there, this is nothing new.

Before you rush right out and dive into this awesome new lifestyle, pause for a moment to consider if it is right for you. Your head may be spinning with the thoughts of spending more time with your children, peaceful naps for yourself, and marathon staring matches between you and your goldfish, but also realize what you'll be lacking. You must be a highly motivated self-starter. You will give up the synergistic effects that can be gained from a diversified work environment, and (worst of all) you'll have to foot the bill for creating a home office environment.

When constructing your new office, the first thing you will need to consider is space. Do you have an extra room in your home? Will the neighbor's barking dog disturb you? Do you have access to a desk and a hyper-color pencil sharpener? Secondly you will need to set up your computer's hardware. Does your computer have the required memory and/or speed to handle your new job? Most telecommuting requires quite a bit of multi-tasking, so your hard drive will need to have enough RAM and empty storage space. A good printer will be necessary at some point. With it you can receive faxes, print out receipts, scan images, create business cards and more. Perhaps you will require video conferencing capability? A small camera the size of an egg, and a pencil-like microphone will suffice. This, combined with Internet telephone software can create powerful effects.

Access to a speedy modem is a must! The now-old-fashioned internal and external telephone modems are still very workable, but less fun (and much slower) then the other available options. The couch potato approach involves buying a special box to connect to your TV. WebTV is the cheapest entry to the Internet for people with a TV and no computer. The snazzy approach, not yet available universally, is the cable modem. This can be a little expensive, but is well worth the investment. Remember, in telecommuting you are only as fast and as efficient as your connection to the Internet. Do this one right!

Building your home office can cost you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. My advice is to start small and to purchase objects as you find a requirement for them. One friend got carried away and ran network cables—held in place by duct tape, of course—all over his house. He climbed up on the roof, put up radio antennas, filled up the attic with humming boxes full of routers, and spread spectrum network adapters and channel service units and heaven knows what else. He still does not use any of them.

An Internet Service Provider (ISP) will be necessary for survival. There are as many ISPs as there are suckers to pay for them, so be careful, and be choosy. A provider will become the foundation and the first level of representation for your business. It's important that they not fail, lest you be caught in the flaming wreckage. Some of the largest and most popular ISPs are America Online, Microsoft Network and Prodigy, but don't feel pushed into signing with any of them. There are Internet providers emerging that charge nothing. Certainproviders limit the amount of data that can be transferred to or from your account at any one time. Many make it more difficult or, in some cases, impossible, to get to parts of the Net considered controversial. You'll be spending a lot of time online, so check for separate provider charges and phone charges. Do your homework, and if you find the perfect ISP, let me know.

Your final task is to seek out an actualtelecommuting job! These can range from tapping keys with data entry, to buying and selling small countries with Microsoft. You are limited only by the extent of your imagination and ambition. If you decide that you miss being surrounded by cardboard walls and the incessant jabber of other employees, you can always set up your computer inside a refrigerator box, and turn on the daily soaps for comfort. Bear in mind that very soon you will be living in the 21st century. Work accordingly.

John Mattox is a Los Angeles native, and is working to open technical and athletic facilities in support of positive alternatives for the children of Southern California.


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