Working from Home: Stretching the Sell-by Date

June 30, 1999

Phil Kelly is a Partner with John G. Gray of Edinburgh and anactive member of the SCL Scottish Group. She can be contacted on 0131 557 4452or at

My initial contact with home computers was about 20 years ago when my husbandand I gave our then 12-year-old son his first computer. He carefully programmedit up and then proudly asked me to give my full name, age etc. I duly did so,giving my date of birth in the usual two digit format – only to be told by thecomputer that I was too old! At that time at least computers didn’t go back2000 years!

I gave computers a wide berth after that and in fact did not touch one againuntil April 1997 when, as a partnership, we decided to get into the 20th centurybefore the 21st century caught up on us. I will never forget the first trainingsession. I was expecting to be taught all sorts of complicated computer speak– instead I found myself grappling with a mouse and playing solitaire. Overthe last two years I am proud to say that I have become, if not totallyproficient, at least computer literate – much to the amazement of my grown-upfamily! Quite apart from the full computer system in the office, I haveinstalled a computer, scanner, printer, phone/fax and e-mail system at home. Asyet I am not linked up to the ‘G-Server’ in the office, which would give meaccess to cash room etc., but we are working on that. Happily, old typing skillslearned at night-school when I was 16 re-surfaced very quickly and I can nowonce again touch-type at a speed that frankly astounds me. The difference thishas made to being able to work partly from home is immeasurable.

There are of course disadvantages but these are few and to date easilyidentified. The inability, as yet, to access cash room means that I cannotalways be sure that we are in funds from a client when considering, for example,the instruction of counsel or an expert opinion. That can however be readilyrectified by a quick call to the office. Likewise it can be frustrating not tohave a file immediately to hand or not to see and sign mail personally before itis sent out, but again these are difficulties easily resolved – an importantletter can be faxed down to me for clearance or an important file can becouriered or sent down to me by taxi in a matter of minutes.

There was of course the question of cost in setting up the home office. Forthe whole thing to work I felt it was essential to buy proper office furniture,not necessarily the top of the range, but solid and practical. The task ofidentifying the kind of computer hardware and software I would require wasconsiderably more straightforward than I had imagined it would be. With regardto all the computer equipment, I was greatly assisted by the fact that my eldestson has his own computer business, specialising in custom-built re-conditionedcomputers. He was, therefore, able not only to advise me but prepared to helphis old mother out at cost! He installed a custom-built PC Pentium 300, 32 Mbmemory, 2.1. Gb hard disk, CD-ROM, sound, fax/modem and 14″ monitor. Iobviously wanted to have the same operating system as we were using in theOffice, namely Microsoft Windows 95, and likewise with regard to applicationsoftware, I chose the system being used in the Office, namely Corel Word Perfect7. The printer is a Hewlett Packard Deskjet 690C and I recently bought a GeniusColorPage-View Scanner, which although an enjoyable addition is probably anon-essential item for home needs.

In addition to initial costs, which are of course ‘one-off’, there areobviously running costs, such as telephone, heating, and lighting, but one hasto bear in mind that these would be incurred in the office set-up anyway. On apersonal level there are savings to be made in, for example, fuel and travelcosts. In fact, as far as I am concerned, the advantages greatly outweigh thedisadvantages. The peace and quiet is indescribable. Apart from telephone andfax contact with the office there are no interruptions, and, dare I say it, noclients! One can spread out case papers and study these at leisure without, at acritical point, having to sweep them all up to consult with Mrs Jones or dealwith some awkward staff problem. Seven hours working at home can easily equateto seven days in the office.

It goes without saying that the increase in concentration level is in fairlydirect relationship to the drop in stress level. That of course is a majorfactor for a ‘Millennium Gran’ like myself! At my age my grandmother hadlong since donned black dresses, put her hair up in a grey bun and taken to herrocking chair. In recent years I have had to consider very carefully the optionsopen to me. The computer age has made it possible for professional people, likemyself, to continue working, at a high level of efficiency long past their‘sell-by’ date. Working from home, either full-time or part-time, with theaid of computers, faxes, mobile phones and e-mail is a very flexible option andone which I can thoroughly recommend.

The computer which told me 20 years ago that I was too old wouldn’t dare tosay that now!