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September - October 1998

Commentary by June Langhoff 

How I Became a Televangelist

 

David asked me to write a bit about myself and my motivation for becoming a "televangelist," though I promote telecommuting and other remote workstyles instead of religion.
 

An Ozzie start

I started telecommuting in 1982, shortly after my son Nick was born. I had never heard the term "telecommuter" and I didnít know anyone who was working from home. I worked for a high-tech firm in Silicon Valley (National SemiConductor), which was over an hourís drive from my home in Pacifica when traffic was light. I was writing a tedious procedure manual and was experiencing constant interruptions at the office. To reduce the time needed for rewrites, I bought a computer - an Osborne 1, the worldís very first portable. It weighed about 24 pounds and was the size of a small sewing machine. The screen was smaller than a post card, it had 64kb memory (roughly equivalent to that of a flea), but it was the hottest piece of equipment on the planet.

 

My Ozzie made me the envy of my coworkers, and paved the way for my ability to telecommute. I asked if I could work at home a couple of days a week to get the project done. My boss agreed. Using a 300-baud modem (the fastest at the time), I connected to the mainframe at work and clicked away. It took more than five minutes just to log on, but still I saved over two hours a day in commute time.

 

Iíve been a teleworker ever since. It allowed me to be at home with my son, help with his homework, volunteer at his school, be a soccer mom, and see him grow up. Heís now 17. Teenagers, though they want little to do with their parents, still need to have someone around, so itís good that I can be here for him. We built a soundproof (well, nearly soundproof) studio in our garage so Nickís series of rock bands would have a place to practice and hang out. None of this would have been possible without the ability to work remotely.
 

Parenting and career

In spite of the occasional interruptions from Nick and his musical pals (now they're into alternative music), Iíve managed to stay productive and earn a comfortable living. Iíve even found time to write four books (one on telecommuting) and get them published.

 

About four years ago, I became a section leader on CompuServeís Working From Home forum. My role was to answer questions from telecommuters and telecommuter-wannabes and to facilitate online discussion. I learned a lot from forum members. Many wrote about the stringent regulations their companies placed on their work. Companies issued RULES about what telecommuters should and shouldnít do, such as:

bullet Get dressed before starting work.
bullet You must have off-site child-care arrangements for the hours you will be working.
bullet Youíre required to start work at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.

 

These rules seem incredibly strict to me. After all, I know that I work perfectly effectively in my bunny slippers and pajamas (though I TRY to get dressed before the FedEx guy arrives). Besides, how could oneís boss know what one is wearing?

 

Many young telecommuting moms (and dads) work part- or full-time with little babies around. Itís only when the baby starts crawling or walking that child-care is absolutely essential. Once my son was in school, I was able to dispense with extra child care. So, if the employee can work out effective ways to take care of their family and still get the work done, what difference does it make how they do it?

 

Corporate regulations about the hours of work also seem counterproductive to me. Sure, companies need to set up core times for communication. And, if the employee handles customer service or needs to be available during set hours for phone calls, I can see the need for strict hours. But one of the major benefits of telework is that employees can work at the times when they are most productive, in concert with their own body clocks. Legislating that is just plain foolish.
 

Creating a place(s) for informantion

Daniel Pink, writing in the January issue of Fast Company, (http://www.fastcompany.com/ online/12/freeagent.html) described how some of the most creative workers in America are striking out on their own. Pink asserts that a new Free Agent Nation is being formed, with 25 million working outside the corporate walls. If corporations continue their Stalinistic work rules for teleworkers, I think that number will continue to climb.

 

Anyway, I decided that telecommuters needed someone to speak for their side. And since I donít earn my living by consulting, I donít have to take the "corporate line." So I published a website, June Langhoffís Telecommuting Resource Center (http://www.langhoff.com). I tried to create a place where people could go to learn more about telecommuting, obtain help talking their boss into letting them do it, and even to find a job that allows them to work remotely from the date of hire.

 

The site has lots of other features. I have a calendar of telecommuting events, a bunch of tips for at-home telecommuters and business travelers, a comprehensive FAQ page with summaries of many of the most recent surveys about remote work, a bookstore, and lots of links.

 

Iíll soon be updating The Telecommuterís Advisor -- the second edition will be out in 1999 -- and would like to sprinkle the book with more advice from the trenches. Iím interested in hearing stories from telecommuters themselves: what works and what is most challenging. Iíd also love to hear from anyone who has found a telecommutable job from a distance. Please contact me at june.langhoff@reporters.net and send me your stories.

 

Oh, I also collect jokes about telework, so if youíd like to share some of your own or have seen something good on the web, send them along or tell me the URL where they can be found. If youíd like to read some, be sure to see http://www.langhoff.com/funny.html.

 
About June LanghoffÖ.

June Langhoff writes about the new workplace for a variety of publications including Working at Home, Fortune, Home Office Computing, Business@Home, and Entrepreneurís Home Office. She is a contributing editor at Telecommute Magazine, a new national magazine specifically for teleworkers. For the past four years, she has hosted a telecommuting section on CompuServeís Working from Home Forum, where she advises telecommuting job seekers and provides information on the logistics of telework. Langhoff was recently selected as a member of Fast Company Magazineís Ask the Experts panel (http://www.fastcompany.com /fc/ask/jlanghoff.html), where she answers readerís questions about remote workstyles.

 

She is the author of four books: The Telecommuter's Advisor, Telecom Made Easy, Phone Company Services and The Business Traveler's Survival Guide. Langhoff is the editor of TeleTrends, the newsletter of the International Telework Association, a non-profit organization that promotes the benefits of telework.

 

Langhoff works from her home office in Pacifica, California, and shares her space with her two office cats (Frisbee and Marsha).

 

Copyright © 1998 - June Langhoff

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