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Nearly Being There

A business trip offers a break from the daily office routine. After a night's peace, though, you start missing everyone at home, and they you. Small dynamics — the excited chatter on the drive home from soccer practice, or the way Dad can exactly explain the math homework — help maintain household equilibrium. So how do things stay in balance when one parent is missing?

Creativity and technology can provide solutions. Elizabeth Franklin, creator of a Zagat-type guide for home design, and her husband, Jeffrey, an investment banker, live in Manhattan with daughters Campbell, 13, and Hunter, 10. The family has its own Web site, displayed on a computer at the kitchen table. Elizabeth posts the family schedule there, so everyone can see the day's events. "Jeff can check our Web calendar at work, before he makes any travel plans. He misses a lot fewer school performances that way," she says.

When Jeffrey travels (about three nights each week), he posts digital pictures to show the kids where he is. Sometimes he'll have a theme in mind, like birds, and he'll post photos of ducks on a pond in London or chickens by the side of the road in Kansas. The girls have started putting up pics of their own for him to discover.

Technology has allowed work to intrude into home life, but "now the same technologies are being used to compensate," observes Kevin Werbach at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Families are connected in more places, more often.

I know someone who sets up a Webcam in his hotel room. If one of his kids walks by the Webcam at home, they stop and chat. We're just seeing the tip of this trend."

Look at the way some families use email. "The girls and I email back and forth all day," says Elizabeth. "I can give them last-minute permission for a sleepover whether I'm down the street or across the country. It's almost irrelevant that I'm on a trip."

But high tech only goes so far. Elizabeth also likes to leave Post-it Notes in the girls' bathroom or bedrooms before she leaves for the airport. "Even if it just reminds them to lay out their clothes the night before school, they feel like Mom is around."

A version of this article appeared in the July 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.