How the 'information highway' made working from home possible

With advancements in computer technology, eliminating the everyday commute became viable by 1994 -- and more Albertans were embracing the home office.

Escaping daily trips to the office became an option for some in 1994

Taking office work out of the city and into the mountains

30 years ago
Duration 3:26
Increasing numbers of Calgarians are discovering the benefits of working at home in 1994.

For Alistair Maclean, working at home was a choice that wasn't hard to make.

As CBC reporter Len Grant discovered in March 1994, the insurance agent was able to move full-time into the retreat he used to visit only on weekends. 

In 2020, working from home became a necessity for many Canadians due to the coronavirus pandemic — an option made possible on a wide scale by advances in technology since the time of Grant's report.

(In the spring of 2022, offices were opening up again, but "employers and workers are having to navigate exactly what the new normal of work is going to look like," reported CBC News.) 

But back to 1994, when working at home was a novelty not available to most.

"Now, he is able to leave the city behind and commute to his job via the computer," said Grant, as Maclean was seen tapping away on a laptop computer in a cozy home office.

The "information highway" made it all possible for the city to come to the country.

'It's getting easier'

Sue Borland and Randy Tomiuk were able to run their video production business from home. (Alberta News/CBC Archives)

Video producers Randy Tomiuk and Sue Borland had made a similar choice.

"Technology has advanced to the point where we're able to do this," said Borland. "It's getting easier and easier."

The couple's work at home was made possible with portable editing machines, laptop computers, and a fax machine. 

"There was a time, when you wanted a professional job, you pretty well had to live in the city," said Grant. "But technology is changing all of that."

'It's called telecommuting'

Alistair Maclean and his wife Dale had given up their life in Calgary to live full-time at their place in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. (Alberta News/CBC Archives)

Grant said the trend was growing in North America.

"Now people can stay in touch via the telephone lines," he explained. "It's called 'telecommuting.'"

As the sound of a dial-up Internet connection played, Maclean explained his workflow at home, connecting with his main office in Waterloo, Ont.

"In the evening I'll connect to send any business that I've put into the computer and update directly into the mainframe down East.

"It eliminates the need to go back through a local office situation." 

Some driving required

Having a cellular telephone handy meant Randy Tomiuk could stay in touch with work, no matter where he was. (Alberta News/CBC Archives)

Maclean still had to leave home to see clients by driving for an hour and a half, said Grant. But it wasn't like commuting every day.

Randy Tomiuk was used to travelling for work all over the world, but the cellular telephone in his car meant that he, too, could stay in touch no matter where he lived.

Experts in the field of telecommunications said there was much more to come.

"Things are right around the corner now. There's a feel to it," said Brian Unger. "There's a tremendous amount of interest in the information highway."

'Both pictures and sound'

New computer technologies, like these seen at the University of Calgary, were bringing users pictures and sound "from faraway places," said reporter Len Grant. (Alberta News/CBC Archives)

Grant visited a computer lab at the University of Calgary to see some of the computer technology "that will become available to householders in years ahead."

"Networks span the globe … bringing both pictures and sound from faraway places," he said.

Soon, animation and video would come available to more computer users, he added as viewers saw one such example.

"That could have more and more people like Randy Tomiuk working in their homes in the country."

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