Workers have few hangups about telecommuting

September 25, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

RANSON, W.Va. - U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service attorney Lisa Ford tapped away on her computer in a clean, quiet cubicle at the Jefferson County TeleCenter.

And she couldn't be happier.

Up until six months ago, she relied on an exhausting MARC train ride to get to work in Washington, D.C.

She left her house at 4:15 a.m., and if it was a good day, she would "stumble back home at 8:30. It makes me tired just to think about it," said Ford.

Now, it's a several-minute drive to Ranson, where she does all her work through a computer link at the telecenter.

Better yet, there's no office chatter and other distractions to bother her as she writes her reports.

"I still work long hours, but I'm just not in a state of fatigue," said Ford, who predicts other workers will soon realize the benefits of the center.

The Jefferson County Development Authority is convinced of the center's value as well.


The development authority has agreed to take over the center from the federal government, believing it could pave the way for a new type of work in the county.

The telecenter was one of 17 facilities opened by the federal government to improve the working environment for employees and save the government money. By working in the telecenters, workers could avoid tiring, time-consuming commutes, and the federal government could save money by depending less on expensive, inner-city office space.

Getting the idea off the ground has been difficult at times.

The federal government's General Services Administration wanted to close the Ranson center, saying it was not being used enough.

Several state and federal elected officials went to bat for the center. Among them were state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley; Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson; and Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, who together secured $20,000 for continued operation of the center.

It was always the federal government's intention to have the centers become self-sufficient, said local telecenter director Pete Smith. With the $20,000 in state funding, and usage on the rise, Smith believes the center can succeed.

Among the 17 centers the federal government set up in cities like Hagerstown, Winchester, Va.; Manassas, Va.; and Sterling, Va., the Ranson center is the first to "graduate" from its federal subsidized status, Smith said.

With the Eastern Panhandle's growth, Smith believes increasing numbers of federal workers and private sector employees who move into the area will see the advantages of working at the telecenter.

Employers pay $77 per day for each worker at the center. Employees work in cubicles equipped with a Microsoft Office 2000. Other benefits include Internet access that is about 30 times faster than most home modems and technical assistance in case workers run into computer troubles, Smith said.

Currently, 14 people work at six stations in the telecenter. Some employees work at the center several days a week, then commute into cities on other days when they have to attend meetings, Smith said.

Federal usage is up 100 percent, with workers from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Customs realizing the benefits of the center.

With 15 stations total, the center has lots of room to grow, Smith said.

"We have to take it a year at a time. But if we can continue to expand utilitization and develop additional sources of funding, the telecenter will be serving the community for a long time," Smith said.

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