Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Telecommuting Progress Report

I've written several blogs about flexible work arrangements and telecommuting. As an early adopter of the technologies and policies which support remote workers, here's an update on our progress over the past year.

Some staff members are working from home on a full-time basis and others are doing so only one or two days a week. We have about 10-15% of the IT workforce (35 of our 350 staff) who work at home on any given day.

What is the impact? 35 people x 260 workdays = 9,100 days per year saved in commuting. That's 9,100 car-days off the road. This reduces the demand for parking, office space, and most importantly the employee stress/strain of fighting traffic.

From a management perspective, the past year has been very successful. Employee turnover is at 2%, employee satisfaction is high, and productivity has improved. Employees spend 2-3 hours a day working instead of preparing for their workday, commuting, and returning home.

Costs of the technology to empower home workers has been low - a partial subsidy of home internet connections, a fixed amount of prepaid cell phone time added to employee paychecks, and the use of the Juniper SSLVPN for secure remote access/desktop sharing.

Personally, I have reduced travel, but not quite as much as I would like. Cisco has agreed to work with me on a Telepresence pilot in my home. I'll be using a CTS 500 Telepresence unit over my Verizon FIOS connection to have virtual meetings with collaborators in Washington, Japan, and throughout the Harvard empire. Harvard is currently installing 5 Telepresence units at its various schools and I will have seamless access to all these locations from my home network. Ideally, I will use this device to improvement my carbon footprint, reduce the burden of airline travel in today's challenging security environment, and most importantly recover the time it takes just to get to my meeting destinations.

Overall, I could not be happier. The policies and technologies of flexible work arrangements work well and we have yet to discover a downside.


mxganse said...

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for most of the industry. Old guard don't like the idea of employees working out of eyesight. I imagine as techniques to measure employee performance improve, we will see more of this.

IBM has been very successful with working remotely. They have gotten to the point where they have saved on real estate costs by allowing workers to work from home offices.

Unknown said...

Like the idea of allowing workers to work from anywhere. Internally we are doing more and more of this. Working to put all the right tools in place for a distributed workforce. It doesn't, however, replace face to face conversations or body language. We are testing and evaluating telepresence, but at a lower end. I'm working to get the right tools in place for individuals to work on video from where ever and tie that to HD conferencing solutions in the office.

I'm always looking for beta testers, so if you have anyone on your team that would like to test the webcams on PCs, I would appreciate the help. No sales, just techs talking with techs. I would love the feedback on whether something like this works for different types of companies.


Billy said...

Thanks you for writing this! I'm going to bat with our HR department soon with help from our HR rep (who is great!). There is a pilot in another part of the organization that is much more restrictive than what we've been doing in our department so we'll be carrying forward a proposal over the next month. I'll be referencing this post in the proposal...

jessica lipnack said...

John, thanks for this update on your telecommuting developments. Please "turn the camera," so to speak, on your Cisco Telepresence experience so we can follow that too. BusinessWeek TV is doing a Cisco-sponsored show on virtual working (I'm on it) in a few weeks and thus will use what you're doing as a reference. And cross-posting now. Thanks.

Rocketrobo said...

Within my team, it's fairly common for System and network Analysts to work remotely. I ask them to keep me informed on what projects they are working, and measure them on performance rather then what hours they are working.

Our corporate policy on telecommuting is that it should not be used as a replacement or substitute for daycare - while I'd be reluctant to say it should be a complete substitute, I don't have a problem with someone working from home while looking after a sick kid. What are your thoughts on this policy?

Ruud said...

In my opinion telecommuting is possible for professionals but it has to involve every employer AND Yes it can involve every Desk-worker !!!!
This means Team-Building, Training on the job, Trust and unofficial gossip to match ideas....all during Telecommuting
We can give this trough Full-time HQ Video and Audio for every employer and manager.
Constantly seeing each other will really build a team.
Check it out at hr.telebeing in the Netherlands (nl)
or join the linkedin group: “teleworking”
Ruud Padt

Alzheimer's Reading Room said...

Great post. Useful and informative.

Somebody has to lead--good for you.

Anonymous said...