Great Companies To Work For
Patricia M. Carey
These seven progressive firms are setting new standards for telecommuting success. Does your employer measure up?
INFORMATION DEVELOPER JULIE MCINTYRE HAD BEEN employed by Nortel Networks in Richardson, Tex., for just a few months when her degenerative muscle and bone disease took a dramatic turn for the worse. Tearfully, McIntyre told her supervisor that she could no longer work full time. But instead of crossing her off, McIntyre’s supervisor offered an alternative: Would she like to telecommute?
Two years later, McIntyre attends meetings, conducts technical training sessions, and collaborates seamlessly with on-site coworkers–all from her Allen, Tex., home. When she needs to make presentations, she simply dials in to a PC in the conference room where her colleagues are sitting. With her company-provided ISDN line, Internet access, and andioconferencing capabilities, she says, “I’m really no different than anyone else.”
McIntyre’s story is more than a happy example of an needs–it illustrates the rapidly melting boundaries between home and office for all workers. More than 15.7 million Americans now work from home for an outside employer at least one day a month, and the figure is rising (see the sidebar “Who Are You?”). At many companies, telework is just one of several alternative work arrangements, such as flexible hours, compressed workweeks, and job sharing.
“I don’t think we’ll even be calling this telecommuting five years from now,” predicts management consultant Fred Crandall, coauthor of Work & Rewards in the Virtual Workplace: A New Deal for Organizations & Employees (Amacom, 1998). “People will simply have work and they’ll do some of it at the office and some away.”
But there’s a big difference between doing it and doing it right. Indeed, decades of experience have shown that whether home workers succeed depends in large part on how much support–technical, financial, and moral–they receive from their employers. Here’s a look at seven companies whose telework programs present noteworthy examples for other employers–maybe yours–to follow.
LOCATION ST. CHARLES, ILL.
EMPLOYEES 300 (IN THAT LOCATION)
Program Basics In January 1998, with informal telecommuting arrangements proliferating, the consulting firm launched a formal program in its St. Charles, Ill., office. Now the experience gained in St. Charles is being distilled into a series of telecommuting “best practices,” such as technology training, which will soon be instituted for all 22,000 of the accounting and management consulting company’s U.S. employees. Local telecommuters are required to spend at least one day a week in the office.
Extra Credit Telecommuting is one of four flexible-work options for which employees may apply after they’ve been with the company two years (managers believe that staffers learn the business and company culture best by spending their first two years on-site).
“We don’t identify jobs as teleworkable or not,” says Debra Tucholski, a senior manager for the company’s performance and learning division in St. Charles and a one-day-a-week telecommuter. “It’s up to the employees to create the business case.” Prospective telecommuters receive training on replicating their Lotus Notes databases to work locally from home (instead of tapping the company network), and they’re also coached in basic troubleshooting strategies.
Happy Home Worker When her husband took a job in Philadelphia, Debra Tate, a senior manager in Arthur Andersen’s performance and learning group in St. Charles, thought she’d have to quit her job. Instead, her supervisors offered her the chance to try teleworking between Pennsylvania and Illinois.
To combat isolation, Tare got to know the people in the firm’s East Coast offices–which, as a bonus, has led to new internal business opportunities for her group. But the best thing about teleworking, she says, is “[being] able to stay with my employer [despite the move].”
LOCATION NEW YORK CITY
Program Basics The telecommunications giant officially introduced telework in the mid-1980s, but control-conscious managers were slow to warm to the idea. A highly publicized telecommuting day for managers in 1994, on which even the company chairman stayed home, helped “to break the logjam,” says AT&T telework spokesperson Burke Stinson,
Today the number of AT&T managers who work from home at least once per week has grown to 29 percent, versus just 8 percent in 1993. (Labor unions haven’t allowed the firm’s unionized employees to work from home.)
Extra Credit Because AT&T’s program is so well established, most managers have bought into the telework concept and go out of their way to make remote employees feel included. Little details make a huge difference, says public relations district manager Lee Ann Kuster, who works with a New Jersey-based team from her home in Phoenix. For example, she says, “On conference calls, when they’re all in the room and you’re on the phone, [the people at headquarters] don’t call on you last as an afterthought. They call you first, or in between, like they would anyone.”
Happy Homo Worker To better accommodate her East Coast colleagues, Kuster starts her workday at 5:30 a.m. “My coworkers don’t care whether I’m at home or in the office, because I’m remote [either way],” she says. “All they want to know is: Is Lee Ann available? Does she have the knowledge we need?”
Program Basics Founded in 1991, Bookminders–which outsources bookkeeping services for small companies–is structured as a “cottage corporation.” Except for founder and CEO Tom Joseph, all employees work from their homes.
The staff members, most of whom are women with young children, work between 20 and 40 hours a week. The arrangement has allowed Joseph to tap a labor pool of highly qualified employees–he requires a degree in accounting and three years of accounting experience–who want the flexibility of working from home.
Extra Credit Once an employee is hired, Bookminders sends a technician to the house to install all the necessary computer equipment and software. “Our employees don’t have to go out of pocket for anything,” says Joseph. The company also pays for a business phone line and e-mail account, and provides a 20-page employee handbook that covers everything from home office requirements (a separate room with a door) to phone etiquette (if kids are wailing or dogs are barking, let voice mail take the call).
Happy Home Worker Operations manager Pam Ludin has worked for Bookminders for five years, always from her home. “One thing I tell people coming on is that [telework] will impact your family in ways you didn’t expect,” she says. After watching her work at home, Ludin’s husband decided to quit his job as a basic researcher at a medical school and become a full-time caretaker of the couple’s two children, ages five and six.
“I think he saw me choosing quality of life over a high-stress work environment and now [he’s doing it, too],” she says.
TELEWORKERS MORE THAN 200
Program Basics In response to Atlanta’s growing air pollution problem, the electrical utility started a telework program in 1993: Metro Atlanta area employees who telecommute do so at least one day per week, and more often when air quality is bad. On official smog alert days, every department is asked to make arrangements for some of its employees to work from home.
Extra Credit Depending on the employee’s function and how often he will be working from home, Georgia Power spends up to $9,000 to outfit a home office, including a high-end computer, printer, fax, office furniture and supplies, and an ISDN line. Tech support is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Demand for the program is high, say company officials, but participation has been capped by technical limitations on the number of dial-up connections the company’s network can handle simultaneously. That limitation is about to be lifted with the adoption of new technology that will allow remote workers to access the corporate LAN via a secure Internet connection.
Happy Home Worker Relmon Cartee, a Georgia Power corporate relations coordinator, works from his suburban Atlanta home a minimum of three days a week. Cartee, who’d seen his 26-mile commute stretch from 30 minutes to 40-plus because of increased traffic over the past eight years, says, “I had never given telecommuting much of a thought until my manager mentioned it to me for environmental reasons.
“I had some apprehensions originally,” he confesses. “But once I got here and got set up, I wondered why I hadn’t been doing this a long time before.”
The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.
EMPLOYEES 11,000 (IN THAT LOCATION)
TELEWORKERS NUMBER NOT KNOWN
Program Basics The Hartford has offered telecommuting as one of eight flexible-work options since 1996. Now telecommuting has spread so quickly that the insurance company can’t even say exactly how many employees are doing it, says Kim Coughlin, manager of work-life programs. Although an automated tracking system is in the works, the lack of statistics reflects the company’s bottom-up approach: All telework requests are approved or rejected by individual managers based on local business needs.
Extra Credit A detailed guide to telecommuting covers everything from ergonomics to insurance issues to employees’ personal responsibilities. All staff members are eligible to apply for any flexible-work option; there’s even a proposal-writing class to help them articulate their reasons. At the manager’s discretion, the company may pay for everything from equipment to furniture to office supplies for full-time teleworkers.
Happy Home Worker Edwina Holloway, specialist in e-commerce, moved to New Port Richer, Fla., after 12 years in the Hartford office. Now she works at home and says that technology gives her all the social interaction she needs. A big user of videoconferencing, she says, “I can participate in just about anything but a company picnic.”
LOCATION NEW YORK CITY
Program Basics Financial services provider Merrill Lynch introduced several telecommuting pilot programs in 1995; participating employees spend anywhere from one to four days weekly working at home, according to Eileen M. Keyes, the company’s assistant vice president in private client technologies.
All equipment is selected and paid for by Merrill Lynch. The company also inspects each home office for safety and ergonomics using a questionnaire and photos from the employee.
Extra Credit Before they begin working from home, staff members receive training in such areas as setting up a home office, connecting to the company network, and how telework affects colleagues, clients, and managers. They also must spend a six-day trial period in the company’s telework simulation lab, a bare-bones office outfitted with a computer, a phone, and little else. “It gives them all the freedom and distractions they’ll have at home,” Keyes explains. “They have to dial in to the network. They’re completely away from supplies, coworkers, and managers.”
Happy Homo Worker Keyes currently telecommutes three days a week from her Staten Island, N.Y., home; at one point, after back surgery, she telecommuted full time. On a typical work-at-home day, she says, her productivity jumps 35 percent to 50 percent over a day in the office.
“There’s not a thing in the world I don’t love about telecommuting,” Keyes declares’
LOCATION RICHARDSON, TEX.
Program Basics The telecommunications equipment maker’s HomeBase program began in 1994 but heated up in 1997; today, 200 to 250 new telecommuters are joining each month.
HomeBase director Mike Taylor credits the program’s popularity to its turnkey approach and 24-hour tech support. One measure of success: In the company’s annual employee survey, telecommuters have a 10 percent higher job satisfaction score.
Extra Credit Nortel pays for virtually everything its full-time teleworkers need, including furniture. At some locations, several popular office modules are on display for prospective telecommuters to choose from. At other divisions, furniture selections appear on a company Web site.
Happy Homo Worker Julie McIntyre’s work-at-home solutions have been so successful that on-site staffers have started using them, too. “When people are having nervous breakdowns trying to find a conference room, I’ll say, `Why don’t we set it up as an audioconference?'” says McIntyre. “To me, it’s transparent, because this is the way I always attend meetings.”
RELATED ARTICLE: Who Are You?
You may be at home, but you’re not alone. As of mid-1998, 15.7 million Americans worked at home for an outside employer at least one day per month, according to Cyber Dialogue, a research and consulting firm based in New York City. By next year, that number is expected to top 18 million.
The average telecommuter is 42 years old, is more likely to be female (51 percent) than male (49 percent), and reports a median household income of $45,200. But a closer look at the demographic reveals three distinct groups.
FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES OF OUTSIDE COMPANIES These teleworkers, an estimated 7.4 million, work at home an average of 2.5 days a week. Almost half are employed by small businesses (with fewer than 100 employees); 24 percent are employed by firms with more than 1,000 employees. Members of this group are more likely to be male (57 percent) and report income of $49,500.
CONTRACT WORKERS Numbering 4 million, most contract telecommuters work for companies with fewer than 100 employees. They’re also more likely to be male (58 percent) and report income of $46,700 per year.
PART-TIMERS Members of this group of 4.3 million include many retirees and homemakers who telecommute informally. They’re more likely to be female and report income of $34,500.
RELATED ARTICLE: How Does Your Company Compare?
Chances are, you feel lucky to be allowed to work at home under any circumstances. But do you ever wonder how your employer’s deal stacks up against the competition? Take this quiz to find out–and to get ideas for improving your situation.
1. When I started working from home, my employer agreed to pay for:
 a. most of my office technology plus my monthly phone bill.
 b. everything, including equipment, office furniture, phone lines and bills, office supplies, and airfare to meetings (for long-distance telecommuters).
 c. nothing. Because I really wanted to telecommute, I agreed to set up a home office at my own expense.
2. My manager sees my teleworking as:
 a. a chance to cut costs.
 b. a win-win proposition for me and the company.
 c. nothing but more work for him.
3. When I have computer problems:
 a. I call in a local repair technician and submit the bill for reimbursement.
 b. I just dial my employer’s 24-hour support line, and company troubleshooters are on the case.
 c. I fix them myself or get repairs at my own expense.
4. My employer’s written telework policy:
 a. is rigid and detailed, specifying which jobs can and can’t be done from home, the hours teleworkers must be at their desks, child care requirements, minimum home office sizes, and more.
 b. provides general guidelines and invites any interested employee to submit a proposal to his supervisor.
 c. doesn’t exist. All telework arrangements are informal and unwritten.
5. I go into the company’s office:
 a. on a specific schedule. Regular, prearranged “face time” is part of my company’s telecommuting policy.
 b. as often as my manager and I think is needed to get the job done and keep up esprit de corps.
 c. never. Since I started teleworking, I haven’t seen my supervisor’s or coworkers’ faces.
6. If there’s an important meeting at the office, I typically:
 a. get patched in on a speakerphone at the last minute. It’s sometimes hard to follow what’s going on because no one remembers to send me the handouts.
 b. am fully included, using audio- and videoconferencing, computer whiteboarding or application sharing, or whatever other technology is necessary.
 c. hear about it afterward.
7. My success is evaluated by:
 a. how quickly I answer my boss’s calls and e-mails. It proves I’m working long hours.
 b. my productivity. With alternative workstyles, results are everything.
 c. Who knows? I haven’t had a formal performance review since I started working from home.
8. My supervisor’s management style is best described as:
 a. command and control. It makes him nervous that he can’t physically see me.
 b. supportive. We communicate regularly by voice and e-mail, and he makes sure I have the resources I need to do my job well.
 c. totally hands-off. We rarely communicate.
9. When my in-office coworkers take the afternoon off to celebrate last quarter’s great results:
 a. I figure no one will notice if I slack off and spend the afternoon painting my garage.
 b. I’m invited along, or if that isn’t feasible, my manager formally gives me the afternoon off.
 c. I don’t even know about it.
Scoring: Give yourself 5 points for every (a) answer, 10 points for every (b), and zero for every (c).
70 to 90 points: Congratulations. You’ve found the rare employer willing to give teleworkers the technical, financial, and managerial support they need.
45 to 70: A for effort, B for execution. But at least your employer’s on the right track.
20 to 45: Your employer is close to clueless. Can you get a spot on the company’s flexible-work committee?
Less than 20: Watch out for falling meteors: Teleworkwise, you’re employed by a dinosaur.
Business writer PATRICIA M. CAREY has been teleworking for 10 years.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Line56
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning