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Telecommuting: Hooking Up From Home Beats a Snowy Commute

January 9, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail shall prevent delivery of an electronic mail.

A raging blizzard kept snowbound workers out of the office across the East and yes, even halted delivery of the U.S. mail in Washington and New York City.

But for many employees, it wasn’t a total loss. They just turned on their computers, dialed in and went to work from home.

``Realistically, in this day and age if your office has voice mail, e-mail and you have a computer at home that’s compatible with your office, you can get a lot done at home,″ said Robert Smith, president of Interactive Services Association in Silver Spring, Md.

Smith said he decided to work from home when the baby sitter called to say she couldn’t make it through the snow.

``A lot of what I would have in the office I’m doing from home,″ he said, explaining he had spent the day sending out electronic mail and making phone calls.

Going to work wasn’t an option at some suburban offices.

At Merck & Co. headquarters in Whitehouse Station, N.J., the drug maker’s 1,800 employees were told to stay home.

``The roads are impassable,″ said spokesman John Doorley, who like others was still able to get a little work done with the click of a mouse and the chirp of a modem.

``Storms like this don’t faze us,″ said Mitchell Rapoport, a partner in the consumer products unit at Ogilvy & Mather Interactive, a division of the giant advertising agency.

Rapoport, who was working from his home in Wilton, Conn., said telecommuting, or working at home via computer-telephone linkup with the office, is an acceptable practice with the firm. Workers can chat on-line, send electronic mail and transmit files from just about anywhere.

``It makes the world a far more intimate place,″ he said. ``You can do exactly the same type of thing that you normally do at your desk, thousands of miles away.″

There is, however, at least one drawback.

``There’s absolutely no substitute for getting together in person to exchange ideas and exchange emotions, and it’s harder to do that when you’re not in one place,″ he said.

And sometimes, there’s just no beating Mother Nature.

About half the 160 employees at O’Reilly & Associates, a publisher of computer books and software in Sebastopol, Calif., are set up to work at home. But flooding last year came so close to the office that power to the building was turned off.

``All the computers they would have had to hook into were off,″ said spokeswoman Sara Winge.

Power outages were reported Monday from Kentucky to Connecticut, and some phone companies also reported problems.

Still, telecommuting has become so popular that if you don’t have a computer at home when it snows, you’re left out in the cold.

``I’m just kicking myself,″ said Peter Doyle, an economist with the International Monetary Fund in Washington. ``I didn’t take my computer home on Friday.″

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