The Home Office
Kathy Yakal, Editorial Assistant
Computers have been used in businesses for many years to streamline procedures, promote efficiency—even to do things that were never possible without them. The same thing is beginning to happen in homes with microcomputers: New businesses are being created, and existing home offices can benefit from the variety of information services and software that is available. This article explores some of the ways that the traditional office is changing.
For some people, "going to the office" no longer means a hurried breakfast, a quick glance at the newspaper, and a frenzied trek through rush-hour traffic. There are many options now available for people who would like to be able to do at least some of their work at home with a personal computer.
Working at home is not a new concept. There are many jobs that can be done easily in a home atmosphere: free-lance writing, day care, mailing services, some types of accounting, and so forth.
But the availability of microcomputers, and the proliferation of small business software and telephone linkups to huge banks of current news and other information, have made it possible to locate many offices wherever the worker wants them.
You don't need an expensive, multifeatured business computer to run a business from your home. It's not necessary to have a technical background. And you won't find a catalog limiting you to a certain selection of jobs.
"The limit to what you can do with a personal computer to start a business is human imagination," says Hank Scheinberg, an executive vice president for Continental Software in Los Angeles. "I don't think it's necessary to have a higher-level machine to do it, either. The lower-end machines will continue to get easier to use."
According to many software distributors, business software is starting to outsell games. Accounting and mailing list programs are very popular, but perhaps the best sellers are word processing software.
It appears that many of those people who are purchasing word processors are using them for business purposes. "I would say that that's the most common use among my readers," says J. Norman Goode, publisher of Micro Moonlighter Newsletter. "And it's not just the general concept of word processing. There are many variations that people don't often think of, like supplying vendors with reader service information."
Sue Click, of Cardio-Trace of Indiana, demonstrates how a person's heartbeat can be transmitted from a pacemaker to an electrocardiogram machine through a modem.
Goode's newsletter is geared toward people who want to use their microcomputers to earn some portion of their income. "I would say that the majority of our readers are moonlighters, people who need a second income or who want to set their spouses up in some sort of home business," says Goode. "But I occasionally get letters from people who were successful enough to turn their part-time jobs into full-time ones."
The second most popular home business, according to Goode, is the consulting service. "The hottest topic is information brokering," he says. "For a fee, people will do specialized research by accessing on-line data bases, which they then write up as a report for their client."
An Unusual Application
Computers are becoming an important part of even the most personal of services, like health care. Medical procedures and equipment have made great advances by using microprocessors. But some people fear this, thinking that medical attention could become cold and impersonal.
Sherry Pegg and Sue Click, of Indianapolis, Indiana, operate a health-related business out of Pegg's home that is convenient and comfortable for patients, and far from impersonal.
Called Cardio-Trace of Indiana, the company was set up eight years ago to provide follow-up care for people who have recently had pacemakers installed. Pegg and Click visit the homes of cardiac patients, get to know them and explain procedures, and give them a small transmitter about the size of a cigarette case. If the patient prefers, he or she may wear the transmitter in a ring or bracelet.
The transmitters, which are designed by the individual pacemaker manufacturer, are actually tiny modems. They differ from the modems commonly used with personal computers in that they send only analog messages and can only transmit, not receive, signals.
When Pegg and Click call, the patient puts the transmitter next to the mouthpiece of the phone; a signal is then sent over the phone lines. That signal translates into a readout on an electrocardiogram machine. Pegg and Click, who have been trained to read those traces, can tell if the patient is experiencing any unusual heart rhythms and if the transmitter is still functioning properly.
Of course, if the readout indicates some serious problem, the patient's physician is called immediately. If not, they send the readout to a cardiologist for analysis, and a written report to the patient's doctor.
The office paperwork is done on an Apple 11+ using software modified by Pegg's husband, Terry, who is a biomedical engineer at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis. Terry's program allows them to send form letters, maintain detailed patient files, and keep general business files like accounts receivable and tax records.
Keeping Up At Home
A personal computer and a modem give you access to a spate of news and information services. Even if you don't have a home business, these electronic clearinghouses may still provide you with information that will enhance your work, your financial affairs, or your personal life.
Subscriptions are required to access most of these services. Some charge a per-minute fee for on-line time; in many cases, though, you are supplied with a toll-free or local number to avoid running up huge long-distance charges.
CompuServe and The Source are probably the best known, but there are some new and some more specialized teleservices.
• Desk Top Broker
This financial service, which has recently come on-line, allows you to enter transactions, maintain a portfolio, and see current stock prices on your home computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"For the first time, individual investors can service their own accounts as fast as any broker. The Desk Top Broker provides unprecedented independence and fiscal agility, giving the little guy an edge in the market," says C. Derek Anderson, president of the brokerage firm C.D. Anderson & Co. "It marks a new era in personal investing."
• RCA Hotline
RCA Global Communications, which has operated a Telex service for a number of years, has recently introduced a system for home computer owners. Called the RCA Hotline, it offers world news, sports, weather, international financial information, and even things like book, movie, and record reviews.
Alan Garratt, administrator for public affairs at RCA, sees a number of business applications for Hotline subscribers, especially those involved in worldwide business transactions. "Executives find that they can make good use of it at work or at home," he says. "If you get a great idea at 11:00 at night, you can write it up and send it off, whether or not anyone is in the office."
Free-lance writers who write for overseas publications, communications consultants, and people involved in importing and exporting manufactured goods have also found the service useful, according to Garratt.
"It's not so much that our system makes possible jobs that couldn't be done before," he says. "They can just do it much easier—productivity time is better."
More To Come
These examples are not given to imply that we are moving toward an entire work force that operates from its members' homes. Some types of businesses may always require a staff to work together at one location. But microcomputers, business software, and the instant information and communication made accessible through telecommunications, are generating new options for business sites.
For more information, contact:
Micro Moonlighter Newsletter
4121 Buckthorn Ct.
Lewisville, TX 5028
RCA Global Communications (Hotline)
60 Broad St.
New York, NY 10004
attn: Alan Garratt
Customer Service: (800)526-3969
C. D. Anderson & Co.
300 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94104
Cardio-Trace of Indiana
4231 E. Thompson Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46237