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    Telecommuting at Telus making good business sense

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver July 15-21, 2008; issue 977

    High Tech Office column

    Telus human 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.
    With 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.

    Call centre 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.

    According 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.

    Working 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.

    Increasing 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.

    Along 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. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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