An eternal apprehension of geographically expanding workforces is the fear of losing the personal touch. So when chief executive Pamela Coker visited her company's Hong Kong office she looked forward to filling her manager in on the latest company news. She was surprised and pleased that her distant colleague already knew everything -- "even the gossip." She'd heard it all through the electronic grapevine.

Coker's company, Acucobol, an $8-million software developer in San Diego, uses the Internet to connect to its Hong Kong and London offices. The electronic community includes all three offices in decision making because it's just as easy to send information around the globe as it is to send it down the hall. "When we need a prompt response to a problem," says management information system director Klay Elwood, "the person sitting halfway around the world gets copied" along with everyone else. Coker adds, "Our Hong Kong and London offices get everything they would get if they were in California -- without any extra effort on our part."

When the Hong Kong manager hired her first employee, she and Coker discussed candidates by electronic mail. They used to rely on the phone to resolve problems, but, Coker says, "I'd always wake her in the morning, or she'd get me when I was tired and ready to go home."

-- Reported by Stephanie Gruner

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Acucobol paid $40 to register its Hong Kong and London E-mail addresses. It paid $150 to sign up in the United Kingdom and now pays about $23 a month for unlimited service; in Hong Kong it paid a $1 sign-up fee and pays a $22 monthly minimum charge.

Acucobol's MIS director Klay Elwood recommends Connecting to the Internet: An O'Reilly Buyer's Guide, by Susan Estrada (O'Reilly & Associates, 800-998-9938, 1993, $15.95).

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