Teleworking Success Takes More Than Technology

Corporate teleworking programs can't succeed without the proper hardware and software. But teleworking is less about hardware and software than it is about people working together using existing IT infrastructure to make remote employees productive and happy.
Corporate teleworking programs simply can't succeed without the proper hardware and software. But teleworking is less about hardware and software than it is about people working together using existing IT infrastructure to make remote employees productive and happy.

In a nutshell, a telework application is any application, legacy or otherwise, that is accessed remotely. If a Citrix front end can be put on it, then that application, by default, has the potential to be a teleworking application. If its net-native already, so much the better.

Of course, some applications like e-mail or Lotus Notes are the ones most IT managers would probably think of first when considering a telework program. But to make teleworking successful, IT managers will also have to set up meetings with their counterparts in HR and real estate to discuss things like technology training and office 'hoteling' applications that allow remote employees to schedule face time using shared office spaces.

"If you're an IT manager tasked with doing that, at first you need to take a big picture look at things and understand that the IT componentry of it is just one component of the overall system," said Tim Kane, CEO of Kinetic Workplace, a Pittsburgh-based telework consultancy and president of the International Telework Association & Council.

And, unfortunately for the IT manager, most of the savings -- upwards of $3,000 per teleworking employee, per year -- will come from these other two departments. The primary way company's save money is through less employee turnover, increased productivity and a lower overall real estate footprint, said Kane. IT costs may actually go up initially as employees are outfitted with home offices and/or mobile offices.

This was the experience at health insurer Cigna. Three years ago when the company first instituted its now award-winning telework program, E*Work, it brought together IT, HR and RE under the leadership of Lynne Kelley-Lewicki, director of Cigna's Integrated Workscape Strategies. Lewicki's job? Ensure the company got the maximum return from its efforts.

Saving money, retaining employees

So far that is happening and will continue to happen. In fact, things are going so well by the end of 2003 fully 25% of the company's 41,000 U.S.-based employees will be doing some form of teleworking. And it's saving the company money.

"We recover our cost basically in the first year," said Lewicki. "It's a good program for Cigna financially. It's becoming even a better program for Cigna because of all the other benefits of the retention and recruitment and productivity."

When factoring in productivity (which is measured quarterly) and employee retention, Lewicki estimates Cigna's program ROI is well over 100%. Savings from RE and technology is 75% of ROI.

For Amy Levy, a senior analyst with Summit Strategies in Boston, teleworking has been a reality since she first started with the company. Like most of her co-workers Levy teleworked from home one or two days a week when she lived in Boston. But now that she is living on the West coast she is full-time teleworker.

To stay in touch with colleagues and write collaborative research reports, Levy relies on two primary programs, Word and Lotus Notes. For meetings and conference calls Summit utilizes the services of ASPs WebEx and Placeware.

"It's not exactly the same as being there but it's pretty darn close," said Levy.

Notes serves all the company's calendaring, email, contact management and report tracking functions while Word (with tracking mode turned on) serves as Levy's document collaboration software. A Windows-based browser and broadband connection complete the package. That's about it. Notes databases are shared and updated by everyone in the company daily.

Even though Summit doesn't use it, instant messaging is also popular among teleworkers -- and becoming more so -- since you can see who is online and shoot them a quick, informal question, said Levy. And, of course, the telephone is the first and foremost teleworking tool on the market today.

According to Mike Bell, a Gartner vice president and research director for its Workforce/Workplace inquiries, companies supplying virtual meeting spaces like Opentext and eRoom (which was purchased in December by content management ISV Documentum) are seeing an upswing in business as more and more enterprise-level corporations are jumping on the telework bandwagon.

Because of WiFi, the new wireless broadband, and increased broadband access in general, Gartner predicts that most of the Global 2000 will have some form of telework program in place by mid-decade. Today, it is not uncommon to have upwards of 50% of employees at a large corporation teleworking up to two days per week, he said.

"Between the wireless infrastructure and cable and DSL proliferation the fact is now people can work very, very effectively from anywhere," said Bell, who has been working from home for over three years. "That's really the story. It's just not about communication technology now, you have to manage the entire workplace infrastructure."

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