Home sweet office

Teleworkers will create the future wealth of nations. Debbie Davies on the tools of the trade
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Rene Magritte, the Surrealist painter, lived and worked at 97 rue du Mimosas. In the morning, he dressed formally, walked around the block, re-entered no 97 and changed into his smock. At the end of the day, he retraced his steps.

Working from home worked for him, in a surreal sort of way, and it does for half a million self-employed in the UK. The numbers are growing, according to European Telework Development (ETD), a body funded by the EC to encourage the trend.

The ETD regards home-based teleworkers, or teletraders as the ETD calls them, as the entrepreneurial engine driving the future wealth of nations.

So what is a teletrader, and what do you need to become one? The ETD says teletraders use advanced information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, to market and sell goods, enhance their relationships and reach distant markets without the overhead of a local presence. Teletrading is changing the way markets work: the software industry, for example, distributes much of its product direct to its customers, who download their purchases; and more and more financial services are delivered electronically.

New market dynamics are matched by new home office concepts. The ETD recommends relatively few physical components. By definition, the electronic office runs not on space and possessions, but on virtual numbers. Office workers who define themselves by the size of their desks or the weight of their curtains reveal an attachment to a passing age when the paraphernalia of work existed around them.

Teleworkers function on the basis that they retrieve what they want as and when they need it from vast, digital databases. The essential components for teletrading become as simple as a defensible work space, a dedicated telephone line and a computer. And agreement from those who share your home on the rules of engagement.

Janie Jackson, an interior designer, finds herself moving towards the electronic age in her home. "When I started working from home, I had twice as much clutter as I have now and I'd like half as much again," she says. A cluttered desk equates with a cluttered mind. "There's something overwhelming about starting the day with a desk piled high with paper," she says.

Ms Jackson's goal of less paper is shared by many. William Sims, a director of the International Workplace Studies Program at Cornell University, recommends digitising post and paperwork. If you are scanning documents in black and white, then Logitech's ScanMan is cheap at less than pounds 50 plus VAT, but awkward to use. For colour scanning, Epson's GT5000 flatbed range gives speedy, good results at around pounds 240. Hewlett Packard's ScanJet 5P is the ultimate for ease of use for under pounds 300.

As well as your scanner, you will need a paper shredder. Go for a floor- standing model for home office use, such as the Rexel 70 (list price pounds 74.95 plus VAT, but available from Viking Direct Office Supplies, 0800 424444, at pounds 39.99 plus VAT).

Digitising incoming paper is only half the story; you will also want to generate as little paperwork as possible. This means a computer with sizeable hard disc space and a fast modem for fax and e-mail transfer of electronic documents. Convergence of technologies for transmitting information means computer manufacturers such as Compaq combine once-separate functions such as telephone answering devices, modems and fax machines. As convergence gathers pace, the options for gathering and transmitting data will grow; dubbing a soundtrack on to your e-mail or running a home movie clip with your electronic sales message will be within your capabilities.

If your excuse for holding on to your filing cabinet is the VAT or tax return, think again. A Green Paper on electronic government proposes nationwide kiosks in libraries and on street corners where you could pay tax, renew licences and apply for benefits, with access through a home or work computer for those who want it. Signatures will be replaced by personal electronic smartcards.

Are there home comforts in this electronic world? Vitra, the office furniture retailer, says that when people start working for themselves from home they may well have cabinets which double up for storage and a table they can work on, but when it comes to what they sit on there is a reluctance to make do. Ms Jackson is particular about what she sits on, bed or otherwise. She says: "My Norman Shaw chair is really gorgeous. It's something I wouldn't be without."


Paperworks, from Paperchase (0171 580 8496)

At 20p per sheet, only those disciplined about what they print should apply. You will need near zero paper consumption to make the gorgeous Transmarque Frost, at 50p per sheet, affordable.

Vitra (0171 408 1122)

Few can match Vitra's collection of office chairs. New chairs - try Antonio Citterio's T-chair - meet old chairs - as in Eames' classic aluminium form. Around pounds 350 is a starting price for Citterio's latest model, while Eames will set you back nearer pounds 1,000 for the best leather and aluminium finishes.

Knoll International Surf Collection designed by Ross Lovegrove and Stephen Peart (0171-236 6655)

No sharp edges or angles; instead, soft biomorphic shapes that help to maintain the body neutral position. Try the Surf Lumbar Support, made of heat-reactive foam developed for use in fighter planes. Rests over any chair like a saddle, responding to the user and returning to its original form seconds after use. pounds 100.

Snapfile, The Conran Shop (0171-589 7401)

Briefcase and filing cabinet in one. Outside, Snapfile is a briefcase; inside, it is a filing system with files that clip in and out as you need them. Hang the briefcase from a hook and its concertina of files falls into a vertical filing cabinet which occupies no more space than a coat hanging on your door. pounds 49.95.

Alcohol wipes, branches of Boots the Chemist

Skip the daily cleaning routine of the big office and instead wipe your desktop, telephone and mouse antiseptic-clean once in a while with alcohol wipes.

Victorian Notice Board, Farrago (01491 573436)

According to Knoll, executives spend six weeks a year looking for lost information. Try a Victorian noticeboard. Match your room colours by using curtain or upholstery fabric off-cuts, or reflect the seasons by changing fabrics for Summer and Winter. Handmade to order from Farrago, pounds 39.95

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