Better Safe

Survey The Landscape

Homebased entrepreneurs and telecommuters often work in solitude surrounded by expensive computer equipment, facing new clients with unknown intentions. If you work late hours, the telling glow of technology can attract unsavory characters . . . unless you take precautions.

When you survey the home office for areas in need of protection, Worthy recommends you start outside and work your way in, asking yourself: Is the property open and clear, and is it well lit at night to dissuade prowlers? If the home has an alarm, is each entrance wired-as opposed to just the front and rear doors? With a modern alarm system, it's possible to arm just the home office's zone, especially if it has a dedicated entrance from the outside. This allows you or your family members to enter the home freely from other entrances while keeping the home office secure.

The first sign greeting visitors and passersby to Michael Dziak's home office is that of his alarm company. Other than that, there's little indication the president of InteleWorks Inc. works from home. "I operate on a stealth basis," says the telework consultant, whose own neighbors don't even know he runs a homebased business.

Dziak prefers it that way. In fact, first impressions go a long way in securing his home office, Dziak says. If people do manage to look through the thorny holly bushes that grow outside his ground-floor windows, they'll notice Dziak has removed the cover to one of his computers (can't resell a computer without the shell, he surmises). They'll also see the sign on his 17-inch monitor boasting "Monitor Defective."

"It's a lot easier to prevent theft than to try to recover after it's occurred," he says. "It's my contention that the possibility is always there . . . and everyone should have a contingency plan in place." Dziak backs up computer data daily between his desktop computers and his laptop; a monthly backup on tape is stored in a remote location of his home.

Rhonda Taylor, owner of The Confident Resume, situated her home office in a second-floor bedroom so she and her equipment would be hidden from plain view. But she takes additional precautions nonetheless.

Outside, no signage tells of her business, and her community's electronic gates keep would-be prowlers from cruising the neighborhood, she says. She gave up her P.O. box as an inconvenience, and instead receives all business checks through direct deposit "to eliminate 'business-looking' checks in the mail," she says.

While Taylor actively markets her business, only her family and closest friends know she works from home. No customers visit and all correspondence is done via phone, e-mail, snail mail and fax. None of her five e-mail accounts bears any personal contact info that could steer someone back to her office.

And while Taylor works alone, she's rarely by herself. "My husband comes home for lunch every day to check on me. And since his schedule is a bit hectic, it's never at the same time," she says. "Plus, we have a big dog."

Like Taylor, April Spring works from an office on the second floor of her home. From there, she can survey her yard and walkway. That way, the president of Spring & Associates, an investor relations and corporate administration firm, can see whether a knock at the door is a delivery person, a friend-or a stranger. Her neighbor knows Spring works from home and would notice if something unusual happened.

Spring uses Caller ID to screen incoming calls and, as part of her "security blanket," keeps her combination cellular phone/pager/ two-way radio nearby. With the touch of the radio's button, she's immediately connected with her husband, Alex Emmermann, or his 50-person group at Motorola.

Although Spring's home has a back room ideal for a home office, she opted for the peace of mind of the upstairs bedroom. "I felt so unsafe [in the back room], like I was waiting for someone to come. I want to be in the front [of the house] and up high so I can look down and see everything," she says. "I take security very seriously. Precautions give me peace of mind and allow me to concentrate on my work."

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