Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 05/85 item 01 - scanned

LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE BUSINESSMAN (column)

Seven months ago I thought I was watching my wife die. The circumstances were sudden and horrifying and, having done all I could for her, I found myself thinking very hard. My first thoughts centred around what a lousy life I'd given her and the children. My second thoughts related to how I could organise things in her absence. Both thoughts led me to consider working from home.

I'm delighted to report that Sylvie didn't die but the strength of those thoughts and feelings were such that they wouldn't go away. After a barrage of hospital tests my wife was put on some nasty drugs and asked to stop driving.

With tremendous good will and cooperation on the part of my colleagues at Caxton, I very quickly started working from home. Much of my work could be carried out better at home than it could in the office anyway. Other responsibilities were shuffled around to take account of the new situation.

A recent report suggested that up to fifteen percent of the workforce could work from home ninety percent of their time thus saving companies a lot of 'overhead' money rent, rates, furniture, electricity and so on. In fact, Rank Xerox has over fifty of its ex-employees 'networking' as they call it. Each is an independent company providing services to its erstwhile employer. Rank Xerox pays them by the project, thus encouraging the home workers to squeeze the maximum productivity out of their time and even expand by taking on more clients.

For such people, the personal computer and the advent of cheap and reliable communications have made this new way of working possible. And, while it all sounds rather splendid in theory, how does it work out in practice? Let's take a married man with three assorted children aged four, twelve and fourteen as an example. Me in fact.

The computer bit is easy, if you've got the money. A computer, a modem, a subscription to Telecom Gold and one or two printers is all you need. A desk, bookshelves, filing cabinet, wastepaper bin, telephone and answering machine complete the basics. Ah yes, and space. I stole the dining room and squashed the table and chairs into one end of the living room. It makes meal times a bit untidy but otherwise hasn't caused too many problems.

Ask any wife whose husband works at home about the advantages and disadvantages and I guarantee they will crank out a long list of disadvantages. Having got the disadvantages off their chests they will mention that we are useful for running errands, doing odd heavy jobs, taking the kids to school and baby-sitting in emergencies.

A major disadvantage for Sylvie is that she doesn't consider the phone 'hers' any more and she is very inhibited about using it. We have two lines and, it might sound daft, but I'm very seriously considering a third.

One of the worst things about working at home if you have children is the noise they generate. I'm particularly averse to bickering and loud noises when I'm working hard. My children seem to save up both until I'm under maximum pressure, then let rip. Poor old Sylvie finds herself frequently trying to dampen the children's natural exuberance "because daddy's working". It doesn't seem fair on her or the children so we're seriously considering an up-market garden shed or sound-proofing the office.

As far as I'm concerned, I do miss the daily contact with other people in the same game so I try to get up to town at least once a week. My lunch bills have nosedived but at the expense of much stimulation from friends and colleagues in the business. When I first started working from home I tried to keep in touch on the telephone which must have driven them bananas. A couple of extortionate phone bills soon put paid to that habit.

One of the difficult things about home working is knowing when to stop. I found myself sitting down at the computer at eight o'clock in the morning and sometimes not leaving it until eleven or twelve at night. All my different activities - writing, consultancy, Caxton, television and the odd bit of programming became totally intertwined and life lost its structure. I recently announced to my family that programming is my hobby and that officially my working day will end at 6.15. Beyond that I will be "working late" or "playing with the computer".

If you or your clients dream of the day when computers liberate you from the office then I wish you well. I should warn those who lack selfreliance, are undisciplined or have egos which need constant massaging that they should not even consider such a move.