Telework becoming recruiting and retention advantage

Daniel Burrus can’t put a number on the irrepressible trend that is telework, also known as telecommuting, but he knows it’s enabled by a computing disruption that continues unabated.

Burrus, president and CEO of Burrus Research and author of Flash Foresight, refers to a “trifecta of change accelerators” that makes it possible for people to telework (i.e., work from home with access to the same business systems they have in the office).

“As a professional woman, work-life balance can be a challenge, so having that technology to support me, without having a lot of barriers to get there, makes it that much more possible.” – Angela Brzowski

“It’s because of cloud computing and the quality of three drivers that I call the change accelerators,” Burrus explained. “These three drivers increase storage, bandwidth, and processing power, and they are all growing exponentially, and they have been doing it for a long time.”

And they will continue to grow exponentially in the foreseeable future. The implications for employee recruitment and retention, work-life balance, and perhaps broader societal challenges like closing the pay gap between men and women are more apparent to larger employers than small and mid-sized organizations, Burrus said, but companies of all sizes would be well advised to offer teleworking opportunities.

Armed with laptops or tablets, smart phones – which are becoming de facto personal computers – and wireless connections in the home and via telecommunications “hot spots,” remote workers can toil in the field or at home. Any home with reliable voice communications, robust broadband, and security to protect the company’s proprietary and the customer’s sensitive information is ready for telework.

TDS Telecommunications Corp. sees the value of telework from two perspectives. Drew Petersen, vice president of external affairs and corporate communications for TDS, said the company not only relies on remote workers, especially among customer contact positions and field service technicians, it also enables telework through its IP managed service. Of the company’s 3,000 employees nationwide, 160 are remote workers.

“We’ve embraced it as an employer, but we’re also providing telecom tools to enable employees at other companies to telecommute,” Petersen said. “We see it on both sides of the ball, the value of having productive employees doing telework, but also providing the tools for our customers to take advantage of it.”

One of those TDS employees is Senior Sales Advisor Mary Andrews, whose home technology setup is not much different from the one she’d find in the TDS customer contact center offices in Madison or Monroe. TDS has appointed her with two monitors, one desktop PC plus Aspect (the phone line that comes through the computer), and a thin client used to secure information through encryption.

Andrews’ children are grown, so she’s not a working mom who needs to be home at certain times. She simply likes the flexibility of working from home, which she does from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each working day in a spare bedroom that serves as her home office. Her job involves processing orders, taking what the company refers to as “escalation calls,” and helping to clarify processes and procedures.

While telework is not for everyone, especially those who crave human contact, Andrews appreciates the quiet, relaxed, and focused environment of home. There still is phone interaction with co-workers and, thanks to technological clarity and reliability, customers are astonished when they learn she’s working from home.

 

What’s more, there are personal advantages. Since her workday begins at 10 a.m., Andrews can sleep in. She doesn’t spend as much on an office wardrobe or gassing up the car, and she can use her breaks to take care of household chores such as laundry or preparing a hot meal in the crockpot for when her husband gets off at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s just amazing how we can do this with technology,” she marvels.

Driving down carbon

Lacinda Athen only works from her centrally located Madison home on Mondays or when she has to let someone into her home for maintenance. As the marketing manager for the Fitchburg-based Valicom, she appreciates the opportunity to cut down on her driving.

Generally, the environmentally conscious Athen is engaged with digital marketing or creating educational content, but as a member of the American Marketing Association, she also networks at AMA training lunches and attends local Chamber of Commerce events. “I like to reduce the amount of driving I do, so I bike commute, and I drive, and I stay home,” Athen said. “So by balancing these three things, I can reduce my carbon footprint.”

Athen’s home-based tech tools include high-speed Internet, with wireless enabled by a wireless router; a laptop, which she works on 100% of the time (home and office); a smart phone (iPhone 4) that’s admittedly two models behind; and Skype, the voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) software.

“Skype makes things easier because my president often works remotely,” she explained. “We talk by phone, and I can use Skype for a voice call over the Internet, so it doesn’t use up all the minutes on my cell plan.”

Closing the gap

One of the reasons given for the pay gap between men and women is that when women choose to leave the workforce to raise young children, they fall behind on the skills meter and cannot command the same salary as established employees upon their return. Telework is viewed as a way to close the gap because it allows new mothers to remain employed and stay current on new business systems while they tend to their children during their formative years.

For Angela Brzowski, design phase manager for Mortenson Construction, telework enables a flexible work schedule. The most important point of her workday schedule is 4:30 in the afternoon, when she leaves for home to prepare a meal for the family, including two young sons – one of whom is starting school.

Brzowski primarily works in Madison, but also spends time at Mortenson’s Brookfield office. The company’s Citrix server, which acts as an extranet, plus Brzowski’s smart phone, laptop, and Verizon mobile hot spot, are the components of her technology toolbox.

 

Since her main focus is on helping Mortenson project teams during the project-planning phase, Brzowski spends a lot of time in meetings and occasionally uses GoToMeeting.com, a Web conferencing service that includes high-definition video.

Every business system she has access to in the office also is available at home, where she has a wireless router and, after putting the kids to bed, does a fair amount of task and coordinating work. “I enjoy my work, but I enjoy my family, too,” stated Brzowski. “As a professional woman, work-life balance can be a challenge, so having that technology to support me, without having a lot of barriers to get there, makes it that much more possible.”

Boomer come back

In the next session of the Wisconsin Legislature, the state telecommunications industry will pursue the establishment of a telecommuter income tax credit. The proposal seeks a one-time tax credit of $1,250 for employers, roughly half the estimated cost of establishing a home office for a telecommuting employee.

The tax credit could further accelerate the teleworking trend in Wisconsin, which Burrus views as a solution to a difficult business problem – keeping the knowledge and wisdom of retiring baby boomers from walking out the door. “Frankly, you are going to need to get them back,” he noted, “but you are not going to get them back unless you offer them flexible hours and allow them to work when they want to, whenever they want to. This [technology] plays into enabling that trend.”

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