Thinking about working from home? You’re not alone. The number of American employees who telecommute from their homes to their place of business has jumped to 10 percent of U.S. adults in the last year, according to a 1999 study conducted by the International Telework Association & Council (ITAC). The study concluded that more than 19.6 million people will have reported working as telecommuters in 1999.

Why the increase? Visit the nation’s cities and you’ll find an answer on congested "express" ways and urban streets. However, workers’ needs to reduce daily commutes aren’t the only reason for the growth of telework. According to ITAC, advancements with the Internet and other communications resources, such as conferencing technology, are making telecommuting a reality for American workers. In this second part of a two-part series, we’ll tell you how telecommuters are using technology to better communicate with their corporate offices, colleagues and contacts. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

Telecommuting and Conferencing Technology
The Internet and other technologies are infiltrating the home, making it easier than ever for workers to set up offices there. Cheaper up-front costs, faster computer transmissions and increased awareness of new technologies are making telework programs around the US a success. As an added bonus, teleworking is beneficial to both the employer and employee. For employers, teleworking can produce increased productivity and decreased absenteeism and turnover. For employees, it can decrease stress and commute times, and create flexible work and family schedules.

If you’re committed to implementing a successful telecommuting program and have corporate support for your project, the first thing you need is technology that permits you to carry out your duties and maintain a link to the corporate office. With such high-tech creature comforts as laptop computers, fax machines, e-mail and the Internet, working from home is becoming as, if not more, cost-effective and efficient as working in a traditional office.

One of the keys to successfully implementing a telework scenario with your employer is reporting in to corporate headquarters on a regular schedule – at least twice a day, according to some experts. It’s important to let both your employers and your co-workers know that you are still part of the team. This will also help avoid feelings of isolation. Good communication tools will allow seamless interaction with your colleagues at the home office, as well as anyone with whom you need to be in constant contact.

Getting the Technology You Need
Today’s home office is only as productive and efficient as its tools. In addition to the up-front costs of buying office equipment, which often are picked up by employers, a good home office will require a range of technology to function as professionally as a corporate workplace. Clearly there are very few offices that can run without a computer, modem, printer and fax machine. But there are some technologies that are often overlooked as necessary elements to keeping teleworkers connected to the office.

For starters, every home office should have a telephone line that’s separate from the home’s regular line. This separate line is really a minimum requirement when you consider that the phone line is needed for not only voice calls, but data transfers by modem, faxing and Internet access. While this may be obvious, many teleworkers often overlook it.

Audio Conferencing
Audio conferencing is perhaps the best tool to enable you to take part in meetings from afar. It’s more than just pushing the conferencing button on your phone. Scheduling conference calls with a conferencing provider, such as MCI WorldCom Conferencing, can open up a slew of capabilities that can make these meetings even more productive. These capabilities include faxing agendas and other documents in advance of the meeting and recording the conference call so that people who can’t attend can listen to it a later time.

Even with last-minute meetings, teleworkers can use Instant Meeting, a new "reservationless" conferencing capability that offers the convenience of instantaneous conference calls. Subscribers can request a toll-free number, a toll number or an MCI WorldCom On-Net Services number for access. They are also provided two levels of security with a conference leader pass code and a participant pass code. This gives them access to a dedicated conference call line 24 hours a day, for up to 100 ports. Instant Meeting is ideal for telecommuters who participate in recurring client meetings, urgent last-minute meetings and regular staff meetings.

Internet-Based Conferencing
Teleworkers can add a visual element to their conference calls with Net Conferencing, a conferencing tool that allows groups of people to meet via the World Wide Web. Net Conferencing is simple, requiring only an Internet-connected computer and separate phone line to participate. It brings people together from multiple, far-flung locations in a virtual environment to collaborate, disseminate information and make decisions. Net Conferencing helps telecommuters achieve new levels of productivity, cut travel costs, expand their reach and shorten the cycle needed to complete projects.

Scheduling a Net Conference from home is easier than ever with Online Reservation System (ORS), a new service that enables participants to register for a Net Conference almost instantaneously via the MCI WorldCom Conferencing Web site. In addition, business people can use ORS to book audio and videoconferences in real-time.

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