With pcTelecommute, you really can work at home

Real-life requirements:
Win9x or NT, 16M RAM, 166-MHz processor, 56K modem for fast performance, CD-ROM drive for
installation, Caller ID-capable modem for monitoring calls and faxes






In spite of the General Services Administration’s long-standing support for
telecommuting, it has yet to see substantial savings in terms of federal office rents or
highway congestion. But telecommuting has made inroads at a number of agencies. Whether
their employees telecommute occasionally or regularly, they need the right tools. I can
recommend pcTelecommute.


Installation was a breeze. I was up and running at home before I would typically have
arrived at work. Rolling out of bed and walking a few feet to my home PC certainly cut
down on commuting time.


The pcTelecommute suite has two functions. The first sets up a virtual office enclave;
the second keeps in touch with your office network.


On the virtual office side, pcTelecommute tracks incoming calls. If you have Caller ID
on your home telephone and a Caller ID-capable modem, each call will display on your
monitor as it rings. You can even designate a list of priority callers and have all others
switched to your home answering machine. The software does the same thing for incoming
faxes.


You do, however, need a dedicated phone line in your home office to make full use of
the program. There are good instructions for making your PC, fax machine, telephone and
answering machine share one dedicated business line.


It’s pretty simple to configure a multiunit line because most of the devices can
be chained together. Symantec includes a dual RJ-11 phone connector.


You can get away with not having a fax machine because pcTelecommute’s fax
management software is powerful. Besides viewing incoming faxes, you can easily send faxes
from your PC and even attach files that will print out at the recipient’s end. I
tested this portion of the software by exchanging documents between my home fax machine
and one at work. Documents and attachments came through correctly at both ends.


A big plus: The suite’s contact manager works with the faxing portion of the
program. You can set up lists of people under different categories so that everyone in a
certain category will receive a fax. In essence, pcTelecommute makes your home computer
work as a fax server.


To satisfy supervisors that you have been busy during the day, the software logs all
incoming calls and outgoing faxes and can quickly generate a report of your activities.


The first part of the suite alone would be valuable for telecommuters, but the second
part is what makes it truly functional. It keeps your home PC files synchronized with your
office files if the office computer is left turned on, is connected to a modem or the
office network and has the appropriate software installed.


I found it easy to keep files on my office PC updated while working on them at home.
When I was about to shut down, pcTelecommute automatically prompted me to send updates to
files I had opened. I could then choose to synchronize some or all of the files before
quitting.


A remote-control function lets you run programs on your work computer that you have not
transferred to home. I tested this with Microsoft Word, as I use Corel WordPerfect at
home. Although the feature works, performance depends on the connection speed.


Short of an Integrated Services Digital Network or cable modem connection, which some
federal telecommuters are lucky enough to have, I recommend a 56-Kbps modem. I also tested
pcTelecommute with a 36.6-Kbps modem that worked more slowly.


For agencies considering telecommuting, pcTelecommute is an excellent out-of-box
experience. Included is a book by June Langhoff, The Telecommuter’s Advisor, that I
recommend to new telecommuters. 

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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