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AT&T Home Work : Telecommute Day Reaches O.C.

September 21, 1994|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — When Kathleen Rockney worked in AT&T's Orange County office building, she enjoyed the informality of Friday's "dress down" day.

But for the past two years, every day has meant casual clothes for Rockney, who telecommutes to her job in Irvine from a spare room in her Fountain Valley home. "I absolutely love sitting at home in my sweats with no makeup on," said Rockney, who sells 800 telephone services to major corporate customers.

Rockney may dress down for work, but she's fired up about telecommuting.

She does not miss the daily traffic jams at the El Toro "Y" on the way to and from office. She happily eliminated after-school day care for her 10-year-old daughter, Ashley. And, she said, she has carved out more time for her husband, Bill, a produce buyer in Los Angeles.

Rockney also is confident that AT&T is benefiting from her stint of working from home via telephone and computer.

"We've discovered that we work harder from home," Rockney said Tuesday. "Our work group is all fairly traditional 'Type A' personalities and, if anything, we have to pull ourselves away from the computer at night."

About 22,500 of AT&T's 247,000 U.S. employees telecommute at least once a month, said Diane K. Schwilling, AT&T's media relations director in Los Angeles. That total includes 7,500 employees who are on the road and work out of "virtual offices," meaning that they use laptop computers, cellular telephones and fax machines to keep in touch with their offices and customers.

On Tuesday, Rockney and Schwilling, who spends one day a week working from her North Pasadena home, were joined by more than 30,000 fellow AT&T employees across the country who had their bosses' blessing to stay at home to help showcase the benefits of telecommuting. In California, about 400 AT&T employees stayed home, eliminating a total of 500 hours commuting time.

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There were, however, roadblocks along the way.

Tom Anderson, a national service manager, had hoped to spend the day handling business from his Capistrano Beach home. But Anderson eventually hopped into his car and dashed to the office when an equipment malfunction kept him from printing an important report.

Telecommuting Day also proved that some jobs simply don't lend themselves to being conducted via the telephone.

AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Allen showed his support for Telecommuting Day by directing an early morning teleconference with key executives from his New York-area home. Allen hurried to his Manhattan office later in the day to personally field questions from reporters about the $11.5-billion merger that AT&T completed Monday with McCaw Cellular Communications Inc.

But, for the most part, Schwilling said, the telecommuting experiment succeeded.

Schwilling, armed with two telephone lines, a fax machine, a beeper and a computer equipped with a fax modem, on Tuesday sent five faxes, made 17 telephone calls, answered about a dozen calls, sent eight electronic mail messages and received about 18 messages from co-workers.

Rockney applauded AT&T executives for embracing the idea of working from home. But she noted that some managers "simply didn't want to let go" of their charges.

Rockney's experience is not unique, according to the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group. According to a recent Conference Board survey, fewer than 1% of employees whose organizations allow telecommuting actually exercise the option.

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Typically, it is management fears, not a lack of technology, that keeps employees from telecommuting. The Conference Board survey determined that "managers won't give up control. . . . They still can't trust that employees are working when they aren't present."

AT&T, which is developing product lines that are tailor-made for home-office users, staged Telecommuting Day to show customers that business won't necessarily grind to a halt if employees stay home.

A recent AT&T study determined that every $1 pumped into a home office cuts corporate real estate costs by $2. Rockney, for example, no longer has an office with AT&T in Irvine. On days when she has to go in, she uses extra desk space that's made available to telecommuters.

AT&T also is using telecommuting to help meet Clean Air Act regulations that require larger employees in big cities to reduce commuter traffic. "Telecommuting has been a big help when it comes to environmental regulations," Schwilling said. "And we do business in many areas, including California, where the Clean Air Act is a concern."

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