Has the thought of telecommuting ever crossed your mind? Do you believe you could be more productive if you could remove yourself from the everyday distractions encountered at the office? Maybe now would be a good time to re-evaluate the possibility. Although justifying telecommuting can be difficult, the rewards for you and your company could make the effort worthwhile.

I got a taste of telecommuting when I was in one of those "in-between" periods of life. Three years ago, I found myself running a consulting business out of my home. Over a two-month period I obtained the required desks, file cabinets and bookcases. I had additional phone lines installed. I even purchased a "speedy" 33 MHz DOS-based personal computer. I found that the benefits of working out of the home easily outweighed the distractions and adapted quickly to my new daytime environment.

If you're interested in telecommuting, consider the initiative under way at Florida Power and Light (FPL), Juno Beach, Florida, U.S. Willie Ho, FPL's south area customer relations and sales manager, thought telecom-muting might help FPL cut costs while enabling sales representatives to be more productive. Ho participated in an internal systems team charged with evaluating the plusses and minuses of a telecommuting sales organization.

The team soon realized sales reps would need mobile computer equipment to gain access to customer information and energy management data as they traveled their territories.

Human resources personnel worked with industry consultants to help employees and supervisors overcome potential telecommuting barriers. Focus groups gave employees the opportunity to air their feelings. A voluntary team analyzed issues raised by the focus groups and recommended that personnel receive additional training. Telecommuters now attend "There's no space like home" training sessions developed jointly by FPL and Marshall Qualtec, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Managers found that they needed new ways to interact with employees they would no longer see everyday. FPL managers participate in "Houston, we have a problem" training sessions where they learn how to manage staff from afar.

Sales reps at FPL now tackle home duties at times that would have been considered work hours. The reps also meet with customers at the customers' convenience, including evenings and Saturdays. With rush hour traffic eliminated and distractions minimized, field reps are more effective. Corporate office costs are also contained. In Ho's sales department alone, FPL is eliminating five offices and consolidating three others, eliminating 10,000 sq ft (929 sq m) of office space. Today, 300 FPL sales reps telecommute. Personnel benefit from the flexible working conditions while the company benefits by holding down the cost of doing business.

Ho tells me that conferences on telecommuting are available for those who want to find out what it takes to make the transition. He suggested I check out Web site www.gilgordon.com. Gil Gordon is one of the telecommuting pioneers as well as keeper of the Web site. His company provides a variety of products to aid telecommuters including conference programs, consulting services and a variety of enabling technologies.

Telecommuting isn't for everyone or for every company. When I worked at home, I discovered that seemingly small details can take on added significance when one works alone. I learned to treasure the small horizontal window in my basement office that provided me with a view of the sky, and the tops of trees, keeping me from getting claustrophobic. Telecommuting can also be a personal learning experience. I found I had the self-motivation and tenacity to keep on task while blocking out noises associated with young children at home.

I increasingly come in contact with individuals from around the world who are workingout of their homes. Telecommuters work not only for utilities, but also for many of the companies that provide products and services to the electric utility industry. There are plenty of departments like Ho's where telecommuting makes sense. In an era where companies must hold down costs to compete, we'll see increasing numbers of telecommuters who routinely dispatch voice, video and data transactions from their homes over wires, coax, fibers or the air.