Telecommuting circa 1985

I recently came across one of the orientation manuals we used in the mid-1980s. Its purpose was to explain telecommuting to prospective telecommuters. It’s interesting to see what, if anything, has changed between telecommuting circa 1985 and today. Here’s an excerpt from The Teleguide for a typical large company. See for yourself how much has changed.

What is Telecommuting?

Telecommuting is the substitution of telecommunications and/or computers for commuting to work. There are two main forms of telecommuting: home telecommuting and satellite center telecommuting. In home telecommuting, a Company employee works at home instead of in the office, possibly with the aid of a personal computer. In satellite center telecommuting, the employee works at an office that is close to his/her home rather than at some more distant location. Telecommunications systems interconnect the home telecommuters, the satellite centers and the “main” offices so that everyone can keep in touch.

Why is the Company interested?

For several reasons. First, if telecommuting becomes widespread it could have major positive effects on traffic flow and air quality. Second, telecommuting may reduce costs and increase effectiveness. Third, telecommuting may beneficially alter energy use, the general quality of life and the economy of the city.

Why should I be interested?

If you want to reduce the time you spend commuting, arrange your working hours to more closely fit your off-work plans, feel more in charge of your life and your job, get closer to your family, reduce some of your work-related expenses, then maybe telecommuting is worth a try. There is no guarantee that all — or even some — of these things will happen for you, but those are among the reasons most often given by telecommuters for their enthusiasm.

The Company Telecommuting Project

The Company Telecommuting Project is designed to test the desirability of telecommuting for the Company and for Company employees. Other tests of telecommuting in business and government over the past fifteen years have shown that employee job satisfaction generally increases, as does productivity. Both the employee and the employer are winners in this situation. We are testing telecommuting to develop methods for ensuring that both employees and management achieve positive and satisfying results; then the use of telecommuting can be appropriately expanded throughout the Company.

What’s going to happen?

The project is in five main parts. The first part comprises orientation briefings for potential telecommuters and their supervisors. Part two focuses on deciding who will be the participating telecommuters. Part three includes training for telecommuters and their supervisors. The fourth part starts when the first project telecommuter begins telecommuting. It will last [some number of] months after telecommuting first officially starts. Finally, part five consists of the evaluation of the project. It will result in recommendations to the Company concerning expansion of telecommuting.

Why have a special project; why not just do it?

Because telecommuting is a departure from `traditional’ ways of working. It is important to make sure that it is done right. It is not advisable to rely on undocumented or overblown tales of great success or miserable failures in Company departments or other organizations. Where telecommuting succeeds it is important to know exactly why – and how much. More importantly, in cases where it doesn’t work out we want to know how to avoid those situations and how to make it work. In order to do that, it is necessary to take very good notes about who is involved, what works, and what doesn’t, all through the project. This is why it is extremely important that you, as a telecommuter, provide information about what works for you – and what doesn’t – over the term of the project. In fact, one of the documents you are required to sign (Telecommuter’s Agreement, included here) concentrates on that as one of the conditions for participating in the project.

Who are the telecommuters?

The participants in the project are being selected from many areas of the Company. The participants may include accountants, secretaries, managers, programmers, engineers, lawyers – many sorts of “information workers”. Basically, if your job primarily involves working with information, you are a potential telecommuter. However, because of some restrictions, such as the need to use very specialized (or very large) equipment, or the necessity to frequently interact with others face-to-face, not all information workers can be telecommuters yet.

Do I HAVE to telecommute?

No. All of the participants in the project are volunteers. Furthermore, if, during the course of the project, you feel that you do not want to continue telecommuting then you are free to return to your job as it was before the project started. If your immediate supervisor feels that telecommuting is not working out for you, you may also be asked to return to your former work pattern. Remember, the intent of the project is to evaluate telecommuting rather than to specially reward or penalize individual workers.

How many telecommuters are participating?

About [the target number]. Many of them will telecommute from home, the rest from satellite centers as they become available. The satellite center telecommuters will work at the center closest to their homes. Some telecommuters may do both: work from home some of the time, from a satellite center some or all of the rest of the time. Not all of the telecommuters will begin at once. The formal implementation part of the project will run [12 or more] months, beginning shortly after approval by the CEO. The first telecommuters will probably be home-based, with the satellite center people starting later.

Who’s in charge of the project?

Normal reporting relationships will not change. Your department has a project coordinator who will act in an advisory capacity to the Telecommuting Advisory Board, which is responsible for advising the CEO on policy issues and reviewing progress of the pilot project throughout its term. The overall project is being coordinated by the . A consulting firm specializing in telecommuting will be assisting in developing and evaluating the project. Your department coordinator should be contacted if you have questions about the operational details of the project.

Things You Should Know Before You Volunteer

Health and Safety

What about accidents?

In order to maintain a businesslike atmosphere and minimize the chance of accidents, you are expected to keep your home office as clean and free from obstructions as if it were your regular Company office. If you have a work related accident at home you are expected to report it promptly. You are covered for such accidents as if they were in a “regular” office.

Will someone check out my home?

The Company reserves the right to do so, since the Company is ultimately responsible for ensuring that employees will have a safe work environment. Safety inspections may be made of the home office space prior to the beginning of the pilot and at random times during the life of the pilot. At least 24 hours prior notice will be given before any inspection. Basically, home-based telecommuters will be required to keep their office free of dangerous obstructions, loose wires and other hazards. They should also have furniture, seating, acoustical isolation and lighting that is conducive to a good work environment. Routine inspections during the project are not anticipated.


Will I need a personal computer to telecommute?

Your job may not involve computer use and may still be perfectly “telecommutable”. Some home telecommuters may need only a telephone to work effectively. It is even possible that you don’t need a telephone to work at home. On the other hand, many, but by no means all home telecommuters will need either a personal computer or a data terminal and a modem for their work. If you regularly use a computer in your daily work, you may also need it at home.
Satellite center telecommuters may or may not need personal computers, depending on the details of their jobs. We expect that many will have them. So all combinations of telephone/no-telephone, computer/no-computer are possible in the project.

Who’s buying?

According to the project consultant, most organizations surveyed do not provide additional equipment. However, some departments may decide to provide some equipment and/or software. Any such equipment or service provision is solely at the discretion of the Company. This will vary among the participating departments. This equipment and software remains the property of the Company.

Who is responsible for maintenance?

The Company will be responsible for routine maintenance of Company-owned equipment and software used during the pilot project. However, it is each employee’s responsibility to ensure that the equipment and software are used in businesslike conditions, whether at home or in a satellite center. This includes ensuring the equipment and software against abuse or other violation of existing rules of the Company concerning protection of its property.

… and so on. This should give you a flavor of the changes over the past 30 years.

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