at Telus making good business sense
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
July 15-21, 2008; issue 977
High Tech Office column
resources business partner Mark Lang
wants us to remember high school. Back then, he suggests, attendance
was taken in every class. Lateness counted. There were assigned seats,
all in neat rows. Then students go to university: while lectures are
held, no one cares where students sit or even monitors whether they’re
there. All that matters is results: exams or written output.
Then students enter the world of work, and for most, it’s like a trip
back to high school.
ever-increasing fuel prices along with increased awareness of carbon
emissions, it may be time to remember another of the high tech office’s
promises. Technology offers the promise of telecommuting: that many of
us can get our work done without needing to sit at a desk in a downtown
office to do it.
Telus is well on the way to meeting a goal to
have at least 25% of the company’s domestic call centre agents working
from home. To make this happen, the company provides employees with a
laptop, secured Internet connections and an ergonomic workspace. With
no commuting, Telus has found these at-home workers more engaged and
more productive than their office-bound co-workers.
agents need to put in a scheduled shift whether working from home or at
the office. Telus’ 32,000 knowledge workers performance is measured
against achievement of objectives. The company’s Workstyles program
aims to enable employees to work when and where it’s most effective.
to Lang, 18,500 of the company’s knowledge workers are now “remote work
enabled” with over 15,000 of them working away from the office at least
once a week. They may not be working from home. Remote work can take
place on the road or in a café.
The Telus employees surveyed
report increased engagement with their work for each additional day per
week that they report working outside the workplace.
remotely poses challenges for team-building. Home-working call centre
agents are required to come in for monthly meetings, to facilitate
“team norms” conversations.
Other employees may work together in
“dispersed teams,” whether they’re aware of it or not. Telus has been
taking the lead in using tele-video conferencing and other
collaborative technologies. Products like Cisco’s Telepresence allow
for high definition virtual meetings. Telus employees are increasingly
using “follow-me telephony,” with a single phone number connecting to
them wherever they happen to be. According to Lang, these technologies
allow Telus to move ideas instead of people.
Employees have to
learn to own their own calendars, taking charge of their time and
setting limits, avoiding being at work 24/7. Lang suggests that this
has not been more of an issue for Telus’ remotely enabled workers than
for their more traditional colleagues. Employees have been increasingly
working wherever they can be most effective. According to Lang, the
Workstyles program formalizes trends that are already taking place.
the number of employees working remotely has other impacts on the
company. Walk-throughs of company facilities last October suggested
about a fifth of desks were vacant and unassigned, with a similar
number assigned but showing no signs that anyone had ever sat there.
Telus will be using this data to determine future office space needs.
with reducing company real estate costs, empowering employees to
control where and when they work lets employees feel in more control of
their work/life balance.
Lang notes other wins: flexible companies
are better able to attract and retain employees and can reduce
work-related travel costs. Older employees, moving toward retirement
can make the transition more gently, moving into training roles and
ensuring that their knowledge is not lost.
It’s a win for the environment, but for Telus, empowering employees to
work remotely makes good business sense as well. •