Telecommuting should be an inclusive experience

Posted Sept. 07, 2008, at 7:59 p.m.

The high price of fuel is changing how we think about commuting. I remember in 1980 reading Alvin Toffler’s prediction that the price of petroleum-based fuel would increase while the cost of ever more sophisticated telecommunication tools would decrease.

At some point, said Toffler, it would make no sense for workers to drive from home to office and back again, five days a week, to work on a computer and a telephone. Welcome to the future. With fuel prices higher than ever, office workers are teleconferencing, not flying; and employers and employees are seeing the wisdom of saving time and money through telecommuting: working the computer and phone from home.

Even the state governments of Maine and Utah have put in place voluntary telecommuting arranges for state workers. Since we are rethinking the wisdom of commuting to the office, perhaps it’s a perfect time for employers to rethink hiring people for whom driving to work has been a challenge — sometimes an insurmountable challenge — long before high gas prices. Take my wife, Claudia, for example.

During the Gov. John McKernan administration, Claudia was the governor’s receptionist. She took all calls to the governor’s office and was the first to receive every person entering the office. After McKernan’s second term ended, Claudia served as a legislative committee clerk. Years before that, Claudia commuted to radio station Coast 102.5 FM in Camden, where she was an ad copywriter.

Claudia has multiple sclerosis. Sometime after finishing up as a legislative committee clerk, Claudia’s MS took away more of the use of her legs and the Maine Motor Vehicle Bureau said she had to stop driving. Since then Claudia’s been working from home. Claudia’s home office is equipped with both PC and Mac computers, a fax machine, DSL Internet, a phone line with unlimited local and long distance calling and a cell phone.

During the last year she was hired for several market research projects involving use of the computer and phone. The challenge? Projects end and there are not always new projects waiting to fill the void. All this especially came to mind last week. As Gov. John Baldacci was announcing his money and energy saving plans, including telecommuting for state workers, Claudia was having a heck of a time finding office work she could do at home.

As long as we’re rethinking working from home for workers who can drive, isn’t it a good time to also rethink working from home for good people who can’t drive?

Scott K. Fish of Dixmont is owner and editor of http://AsMaineGoes.com. He also writes a monthly political column for Bangor Metro magazine.

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