Telecommuting Plays a Role in Recruiting
By Claude J. Bauer
In an effort to attract and retain high tech talent, companies are beefing up their benefits packages with a variety of unconventional perks, including allowing their workers to telecommute, rather than report to an office every day.
"Telecommuting is emerging as the hot new employee benefit as many companies exhaust their more traditional recruiting incentives in a tight labor market," said Adrienne Plotch, vice president of the New York, N.Y.-based firm, Olsten Staffing Services.
According to a recent study by Olsten, for the first time a majority (51 percent) of companies now permit employees to telecommute regularly or through pilot programs. What's more, 82 percent of high tech firms in the study now offer telecommuting, which is up from 50 percent last year. Plotch believes that about one-third of the companies that took part in the study use telecommuting as a recruiting tool. The possibility of commuting to alternate work sites, such as satellite offices located outside areas of major congestion, represents a "huge incentive" for potential employees, Plotch said. "It's a great thing to offer if you want to attract really talented people," she said.
Telecommuting, and its closely-related offshoot "telework," is aimed mostly at technical professionals, sales reps, and other white collar workers. Formal telecommuting is the practice of working from home exclusively, while telework is more closely defined as working from a variety of locations, including a standard office, the home, a satellite office, and other remote locations, such as a hotel or client site.
Despite the fact that many in the industry use the terms interchangeably, Gail Martin, executive director for the Washington, D.C.-based International Telework Association and Council (ITAC) draws a distinction between the two. For Martin, telecommuting full time is an "all-or-nothing proposition," while telework offers more flexibility to companies and employees. She attributes the growing acceptance of telework to, "an enormous paradigm shift" in the way corporations view remote workers. In the past, telecommuting was often viewed as a civic responsibility of a good corporation. However, companies today look at telework as a way to reduce costs, attract and retain workers, and increase productivity, she said.
According to the New York, N.Y.-based market research group Find/SVP, the number of workers formally telecommuting in the U.S. will grow from 4 million in 1990 to 14 million by 2000. However, experts believe that the number of workers involved in formal and informal telework arrangements will be much greater.
A New Benefit
Bob Fortier, president of the Canadian Telework Association (CTA), says high tech firms everywhere in Norther America are experiencing "unbelievable competition" for skilled workers. Fortier serves on the board of ITAC and cosponsors Telecommute America, a nationwide public awareness program that sponsors a week-long series of telecommuting activities and conferences each year. According to Fortier, "High tech companies are doing everything they can to find and retain employees," which includes offering telework as part of a "hefty" benefits package.
What's more, Jennifer Ragone, a technical recruiter for the Herndon, Va.-based technology firm EDS Inc. has found, "In interviews, [job candidates] ask if the company has telecommuting or a flexible workplace." She's also noticed that many of the company's long-time employees are now broaching the subject with their managers, which she sees as a positive trend. Telework can be used as an "added incentive" to help keep valuable employees on board, she commented.
Karen Sansone, an alternate work strategist for the Murray Hills, New Jersey-based research company Lucent Technologies, believes telework is an effective way for corporations to save money on facilities, accommodate growth, and attract new employees. A recent employee survey at Lucent showed that 12 percent of employees there regularly perform some type of remote work. According to Sansone, Lucent recruiters are reporting that recent grads now expect technology companies to offer benefits such as telework. During interviews, they often inquire about the types of flexible work arrangements the company has to offer, as well as the technologies they'll be given to accommodate it, Sansone said.
Who's Doing it Here?
In the Washington area, AT&T is one of the largest technology employers to offer telework. The company now employs 4,826 workers in the region. According to company spokesperson Burke Stinson, speaking from corporate headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, 40 to 50 percent of AT&T's white collar workforce in the Washington area now teleworks at least twice a week, including weekends. He also estimates that 20 to 30 percent of AT&T's professional employees company-wide telecommute from home, and approximately 50 percent are teleworkers, with an office at home and at work. In 1997, 55 percent of AT&T managers company-wide reported that they worked at home regularly, Stinson said.
Despite such impressive numbers, Stinson believes, "This phenomenon is barely off the launching pad." Generational influences, advances in technology, and business benefits will spur telework even more in the years to come, he predicts. Already, AT&T recruiters are reporting that young job candidates, especially "the best and brightest," are asking for flexible work arrangements as part of a hiring package, Stinson said.
According to James Wynne, a Bethesda, Md.-based IBM human resources partner, IBM has, "a group [of workers] assigned strictly to mobility." These are typically sales reps and other professionals. Wynne notes that 54.8 percent of IBM's U.S. workforce, or 63,600 employees, engaged in some type of telework in 1996, ranging from a few hours to a few days per week. According to Wynne, there are about 2,800 IBM employees in the Washington area. Wynne has found that telework produces "positive results" for the employee and the company, and that increasingly, "employees are requesting it," he said. Remote, but in Touch
For IBM employee Dave Fox, telework is a way of life. Fox, who serves as a global solutions manager for IBM, divides his time between his home office in Great Falls, Va., his regular office in Fall Church, Va., and his fully-equipped mobile office that accompanies him on the road. "It works great," he said. "I can do everything at home or traveling that I can do at the office," he said. What's more, "I can save an hour to an hour and a half a day by not commuting," to work, he added.
Fox sees little need for making the trek to the office every day, and typically only goes in if he has a meeting. With two regular phone lines plus an ISDN line at home, Fox can have two computers running simultaneously, and carry on two phone conversations or conference calls at the same time. He also uses IBM's intranet and the Internet for e-mail communication, and has collected all the standard office equipment he needs to do business at home. "It's all in the corner of my basement," he said. His mobile office includes a laptop PC with communications software, pager, and cellular phone. The only downside to telework, says Fox, is the "loss of spontaneous interaction" he often enjoys with fellow employees. That's one reason he decided to telework, rather than telecommute full time. "That unexpected personal contact in the office is something I wouldn't want to lose," he said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company