316 — One path to becoming the employer of choice

Jul 9, 2002 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

David P. Mead
MCK Communications
Thanks to CRMXchange.com

Recently there has been much press coverage of major companies with initiatives designed to position themselves as “employers of choice” with quality candidates for new hiring as well as retaining existing employees by keeping them engaged and committed. Many of these programs contain work-life balance initiatives including flexible schedules and location. Telecommuting is a component of virtually all these initiatives.

Not enough people to fill the jobs
With the telecommunications boom facilitating a period of unprecedented economic prosperity, one of the byproducts has been a shortage of candidates to fill job vacancies. Many state unemployment rates hover below 4%. Key skills are in hot demand. Unemployment in Silicon Valley for IT jobs was reported by The San Jose Mercury News as (- 4%), meaning that people were working more hours than they cared to. Computerworld recently reported that there were 190,000 open Information Technology jobs in the United States. One-third of the job requisitions for IT positions opened in 1997 never got filled.1 Another industry periodical estimated that it would take 5 years of college grads just to fill current IT job openings

It’s not just an IT shortage. Fortune reported that the number of jobs for inbound call center representatives (customer service/help desk) would double from 2 Million to 4 Million between 1993 and 19992, while the traditional source of recruits for these jobs (ages 18 to 34) is shrinking. A shortage of people with the right skills has become the major focus of senior executives in all industries. Not only does this translate into recruiting challenges, but also has led to rising turnover due to ample opportunity to change jobs for a few pennies more an hour, a more interesting challenge, and greater flexibility. A 1997 study by Financial Training Resources, Inc. reported that the turnover rate for call center employees in the banking industry averaged 36%while taking 6 months time and cost $26,000 to get the new employee to full productivity.3

The balance is shifting and both employers and employees know it.
The balance of power between employers and employees is shifting and both employers and employees know it. Candidate selection expert Dr. Brooks Mitchell of Aspen Tree Software indicates that ” there is a fundamental shift that has occurred, and it is picking up momentum.”4 With unemployment low, skills in great demand, and growth of the Internet, employees have far greater mobility than ever before. Stories abound about employees who put their resumes on the Internet or walked across the parking lot and had job offers in minutes. Employees now can and will find new jobs quickly and easily … without ever leaving their computer… if the employer isn’t meeting their needs

Loyal to interesting work and work conditions … not the company
The Wall Street Journal reported that college recruits for technology jobs in 1997 had a new hierarchy of criteria for selecting first jobs: #1 was interesting or state of the art technology work; #2 was flexible work including telecommuting; #5 was pay; #6 was career progression.5 The rules that govern job decisions have changed. No longer are recruits solely looking primarily at a career or company with little concern for location, conditions, or the type of project. These new employees are determined to have significant input in deciding where they want to live and how they want to work.

Why is telecommuting so high on the list?
Many of the younger entries into the workforce are products of the era of downsizing. They witnessed when their parents, who had been very committed to their companies and who worked long hours over many years, were suddenly out of a job. Also, these are the Internet generation who grew up with computers and understand how voice and data communications have made it possible to work from anywhere. The focus is on the work performed, not on the place of work. Also work – life balance is key. The ability to balance personal life, family, and work is very important. Many of these new workers are the “latchkey kids” of the 1970’s and 1980’s, and they are unwilling to have the same lifestyle as their parents.

Telecommuting provides the flexibility to work when one is most productive.6 It provides a focused environment away from the distractions of the office. The spotlight moves to the results of the work, not the elapsed time at the office. Telecommuters can achieve a better balance between work and personal life. It allows a parent to attend that child’s soccer practice or ballet recital at 4:00 p.m. and complete the work assignment after dinner. The quality of the work output improves when the concern is work results, not work process or merely “being there”.

Companies have started to offer telecommuting … not just allow it Over the last several 10 years companies, especially the Fortune 1000 and companies with less than 100 employees have begun to allow telecommuting. It began in pockets of special circumstances with women on maternity leave or a spousal move or a uniquely skilled individual wanting to move to a remote site.

In the last few years the momentum has shifted. A Ford Foundation study reported the findings of a study on the impact of work family balance and flexible work including telecommuting. It found that companies that offered employees more balance and control over where and how work was done had significantly higher productivity, lower absenteeism, better retention of employees, and were generally viewed as more desirable employers.7

Companies are formalizing telecommuting programs and seeking to facilitate the move to telecommuting and are promoting it with future recruits. Many companies, such as Merrill Lynch, IBM, American Express, CIGNA, AT&T, GE, Xerox, are promoting telecommuting as an example of being the “employer of choice.” … and with some good results. These companies offer more structured telecommuting programs, featuring candidate selection, training, providing computers and equipment, improved remote access communications, and have created support systems for remote workers.

The bar has been raised: Your better employees can recognize the difference Some companies have stringent limits on equipment and support for home workers. Some companies provide a lesser standard of work environment for their remote employees than for their traditional office counterparts. Some companies ask employees to waive certain rights. Some companies either do not provide furniture or offer a small stipend ($200 to $400) for furniture; others put the total responsibility for a safe and effective environment on the employee; others have strong restrictions for voice and data communication.

In 1990, only 17% of Fortune 1000 companies played a role in supplying equipment to telecommuters. By 1995, that number had reached 76%8.

A large company with a history of being an “employer of choice” several years ago was facing difficult financial times. It employed telecommuting as a real estate expense reduction – survival tool. Employees were offered the implicit choice of “telecommuting or being downsized.” There was very little support for the remote workers other than technology. Due to the economic climate, it worked and they saved millions of dollars in real estate. However, after two years, this same company recognized that many of the better employees were beginning to leave for other opportunities, many of which provided for a better remote environment. This company has quietly, but methodically, made the improvement of its telecommuting program to world class status a top priority

What used to be acceptable for telecommuting and make the company look advanced, now can make a company look backward, cheap, and capricious. The bar has been raised… the better employees now expect not only to be allowed to telecommute, but to be on equal footing with their office counterparts. They want to have equity with their counterparts in the traditional office in equipment, communications, facilities, etc. … and they’re getting it.

A world class telecommuting program requires a corporate infrastructure.
Philip Burgess, President of the Center for the New West, a think tank with years of experience with telecommuting, indicates that telecommuting is finally getting on the right track. He states that telecommuting initially was developed “from the outside In, rather than the inside out”…created by individuals and government in response to some natural disaster (earthquake, flood) or infrastructure problem (air quality, traffic congestion). As a result, it was a government-sponsored program or one designed to meet individual needs. The necessary infrastructure to support telecommuting within a company on an ongoing basis was not developed. In the last three years, companies have begun to realize the savings and benefits of telecommuting. Telecommuting is being developed now from the “inside out”…companies are now developing programs and systems to support remote work as a mainstream activity.9

Successful programs require a new “delivery system” to integrate people, technology, work environment/work processes.
Telecommuting is a different way of doing work. Many of the existing systems, procedures, and policies must be modified to recognize these new situations. In many respects, telecommuting requires the adaptation to new “delivery systems.” Think of the current traditional office model of “many people, one location” changing to “many people, many locations.” What impact might that have on methods of disseminating information, communications, meetings, employee safety, employee training, supervision, ordering, delivery, installation, maintenance, upgrading, management, and asset tracking of computers, telecommunications equipment, office furniture, and software. Instead of ordering 400 workstations to be delivered to a central receiving dock and then installed by an on-location staff over a long weekend, there are now 400 very different home locations. Refer to Figure 1. It details the various factors that must be considered to implement a successful program that can be scaled across the enterprise and sustained over time.

Is it worth the effort?
Companies that are implementing mainstream telecommuting programs answer a resounding “Yes!” These companies acknowledge that implementing a sustainable telecommuting program is requires an intense effort. But the benefits can be huge. Reductions in turnover of 30% to 50% and reductions in absenteeism of up to 90% have been reported across a number of companies. One major company got better results from telecommuting than all of its other 45 recruiting and retention programs combined

Will telecommuting replace the traditional office building?
There will continue to be a need for the traditional office building for two reasons: first, telecommuting is not for everyone. Telecommuting Success, Inc. estimates that telecommuting will not exceed 20% to 25% of the total workforce. Many people want the structure, the social contact of an office, or do not have the appropriate space or environment for a productive home office; second, people, even telecommuters, need periodic face-to-face contact. Most telecommuting situations involve some time in the office for meetings, training, or work on project teams. So, the space needs in the office shift more toward additional conference and training rooms, but there is still the need for some office space.

What do employees want from a telecommuting program?
Telecommuting is a big change for employees too. As much as they desire to telecommute, they do not want to be left alone to set up an office environment. At the Telecommuting and Home Office Expo in San Francisco in October, 1997, I asked the audience, “How many of you when moving to a new company in a traditional office were totally responsible for setting it up? How many had to…find the space for an office…decide the layout, select the furniture, order the furniture, install the furniture, order the telephone and lines, determine the data or network connectivity, order the telephone or ISDN line, coordinate the installation, select, order, and install your computer, install all of the applications software, coordinate the connection with the network, work with the suppliers and helpdesks……all while doing your full time job?” Needless to say there were no hands raised. When simply asked, “How many want the option of a telecommuting work environment,” almost every hand was raised. Trina Hoefling, a nationally recognized expert in telecommuting training, indicates that telecommuters want shared responsibility for the success of a clearly developed program. Telecommuters will work to help telecommuting succeed, but only with an attractive goal that is clear and well communicated, moderate risk, partial or shared responsibility, and good feedback about their performance as telecommuters and employees.10

Telecommuters need to understand that the company telecommuting program is a legitimate workplace alternative and that they will be treated with equity to their office counterparts. They need to have answers to their questions… What will happen if… I get a new manager or supervisor?…my family situation changes?… I move?…It doesn’t work out?… the computer / network goes down at 11:00 PM?… I need help with a software application? Telecommuters need help with setting up and equipping their home offices. They need new support systems. They need training. They need managers who are trained. They need remote access communications that work. They need – and want – to succeed personally, professionally, and organizationally.

Fortunately, there are more alternatives to help telecommuters stay connected to their corporate systems today. While companies have come to expect remote data access for off-premise employees, remote voice solutions are now available that let remote workers use their office phones, with all of the PBX features, from home. There are consulting and service companies who specialize in supporting the needs of remote workers. By providing the same tools that workers have in the corporate office, including seamless access to the telephone system and data networks as well as a support network, we are creating an environment that is productive, familiar and ensures a sense of connectedness for our remote workers.

Telecommuting is here to stay.
If you’re not doing it, you will be, because your competitors are beginning to move into telecommuting with increasing speed. The Gartner Group estimates are that as many as 40% of all call center positions (customer service, help desks) will be home-based by the year 2002.11 With improvements in technology and telecommunications, a new workforce demanding greater flexibility and work-life balance, and shortage of people with key skills, companies seeking to be perceived as “employers of choice” will find that telecommuting as a standard workplace option will be a competitive necessity

David P. Mead is President and CEO of Telecommuting Success, Inc. (www.telsuccess.com), an Englewood, Colorado company that specializes in telecommuting consulting, implementation and management. TSI works with organizations to develop telecommuting solutions that integrate technology, people, work processes, and work environment in programs that can be scaled across the enterprise and sustained over time. In addition, TSI works on a consulting basis with call centers in design, project management and performance improvement. TSI also has offices in Philadelphia and MountainView, California.

1 Computerworld, December 29, 1997

2 Fortune, May 26, 1997

3 FTR, Inc. Presentation, ABA Operations Conference, June 1997

4 Aspen Tree Quarterly, Spring 1997

5 The Wall Street Journal, April 21, 1997

6 “Making Telecommuting Happen”, Jack M. Nilles, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1994

7 “Relinking Life and Work”, Ford Foundation, November, 1996

8 “The Telecommuter’s Handbook,” Debra Schepp, Brad Schepp, McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1995

9 Drive Time Business Reports, Summer, 1997

10 “Mission Possible: Effective Telecommuting From Call Centers”, Trina Hoefling, 1997

11 GartnerGroup, 1996.

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