04.19.05 NOTES: Tuesday@REI on Teleworking

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 04/19/2005 - 17:46.

Vic Voinovich has initiated a discussion in Northeast Ohio about the potential of teleworking to help this region attract and retain businesses and talented workers - the dialogue began 03.03.05 with a roundtable discussion at Case, continuing with development of a community of interest link called NEOtelework, leading to this Tuesday@REI session - this collaboration will continue with several more group sessions and developing a center of excellence in the field. Vic sees teleworking as an economic development tool
- Ohio must find ways to attract and retain jobs - reduce costs to do business
here - telework provides a supurb opportunity.

Teleworking is anytime anywhere - reduce labor cost
and transit time and pollution.

Necessity is mother of invention - work from laptop -
36% of all workers would telework if given the opportunity, more important than
pay raise

NEO has lost many jobs - we need to fight back -
lower costs - higher productivity - higher satisfaction. Transform NEO into world class teleworking community
- long list of jobs are appropriate. Must develop strategy for leveraging teleworking in
NEO - create center for jobs through teleworking - assist business in planning
and implementation - lots needs to be done - skills and knowledge. Educational organizations must be linked
in.

Vic believes teleworking has been neglected in NEO -
wants to attack the market - build prototypes. Initiative started over a month ago - planning two
more meetings

Ohio Utility Protection Services now speaks to the
group from Youngstown via videoconference. Vic met them 2 years ago when
helping them with real estate planning, and realized they had a teleworking workforce.

Their presentation is a "Work At Home Program Overview" - non-profit started in 1972 - takes digging locations for entire state
of Ohio - mission to protect people and the environment. Has had work at home
since 1994- 24x7 inbound call
center - first call center for a before you dig program in the country to use telework...
16 home agents connected via high speed Internet (50% of operators) - comparable
center in Northern California is 100% work at home

They take calls, submit to form and transmit to
member utilities. Work at home is only offered for veteran operators - voluntary - must have
quiet room - good ergonomics - company provides workers home computer w/ Internet access and
multiple land lines

Benefits include disaster recovery planning - with flexible
AT&T Advanced Call Routing they route 800 traffic to regular phones at homes
- operators connect to a replicated database via Virtual Private Network (VPN)
at a hosted data center in Mesa, AZ

Home agents work nights and weekends, which cuts
costs - utility bills are drastically lower - agents can sigh on quickly to take
call over flow (yesterday was busiest day ever and they were able to take calls
in 30 seconds or less) - agents have regular shifts but are flexible for the
needs of the center.

Because
of the adverse weather in NEO, when the weather is poor, home agents handle work until others can get into
the office - agents with children do not need to find babysitters if there's a
snow day at school

Higher number of calls taken by agents at home because they
have less projects than in-house - tardiness has never been a problem - agents commit
to work even if sick - extremely efficient... less times per call

Agent benefits - less gas - cheap lunches - do
laundry and dishes during breaks - work in PJs until noon - less money spent on
clothes - able to smoke in house (company doesn't encourage) - at home when kids
get home

Center benefits include lower overhead - heat, air,
water - higher productivity by office agents performing special tasks - all
agents make the same wages, based on seniority.

World benefits because there is less polution - that is part of their mission.

Office relations - same email, e-newsletters, all
participate in office functions and parties, strong sense of
camaraderie.

Supervision and quality control - monitor in same
ways with same tools - managers can monitor calls for quality assurance - phone
switch tracks performance - record all calls - computer monitoring tracks
performance... tickets written - can view screens but latency is problem... used
mainly for support - use logs

Phone equipment is same that office agents use with
remote extender of center PBX (requires additional phone line) - network
equipment high speed Internet - direct wire must be used for reliability -
dial-up for backup

Tech issues - some tech issues can be solved from
central office - must problems are outside the center, like power and phone line
failures... all overcome with calls to utilities - if all else fails there is
room in the office for them to work until home problems are resolved


VoIP has been discussed - browser application in
works so a constant database connection is not required.

 

To caller there is no difference between calling
office or home - to the rest of us, one less car congesting the roadways - to
the world, one less car polluting.

Vic asks what are savings from telework? They don't have the figure available today

When do you see using VoIP? No time frame - looking into getting new
building which will have new system which could include VoIP - will need more
bandwidth - have Cisco switches that handle VoIP but haven't
implemented.

What kind of unique personnel issues has this raised?
All work-at-home's used to work in house so no big issues - people still work at
office sometimes so camaraderie is maintained.

Do you see moving jobs beyond call center to
telework? Could be done - mapping etc.

Training of teleworkers... certification? The
operators are experienced from office -
everything at home is same... no special training involved

Vic points to attendee from Medical Mutual and asks for insight on their experience with teleworking. They have
been doing telework since March 2003 - started this because people were quitting
because they wanted to work at home - sent 4 people to process claims at home - now
1/2 their processing staff works at home... 60-some people - must meet
productivity and quality requirements - can even conference in for staff
meetings - only need to come in for evaluations - may work their shifts any time from 6 AM to 9 PM -
inform workers telework is not substitute for day care - as long as workers meet performance requirements
they are fine - they now have one worker who moved to Denver and still works for
Medical Mutual - usually have worked for company for 1 year before being allowed to telework - you meet the
guidelines you can work at home - no difference in pay - local income tax is for
where they live - saves Medical Mutual $10k per employee in facility costs, not including electricity - do not
send them home with as much as pencil... must have their own home computer and Internet
access - have help desk but most down-time problems are with ISP and worker deals with
that. No matter what happens at central office their staff keeps working at home (e.g. 9/11).
These are operations claims people who had intensive in-house training. Only
three staff members have come back in-house - one for performance problems and two
because they wanted human contact.

Also rolling out to
their IT folks - encouraging them to work at home and provide equipment - only 6
IT people have taken that option... want to work some at home and some at
office, which is not an option.

Have option to come into office if there is problem. People love
it - no security issues

Attendee points out he worked at home and he had better
productivity at home than at work.

Medical Mutual rep asks OUPS rep how they deal with call
center and background distraction and noise. Require quiet room -
noise-canceling headset - managers monitor calls and intervene if there are
problems

Attendee who worked on Lexus/Nexus received computer by
UPS - was quota system so system knew weekly performance - if worker missed quota three times then
fired. Once workers realized that staff were spread all over the country they built
email relationships and were happy (socialization issue) - carpal tunnel issues
so send wrist wraps.

Attendee points out some tasks require brainstorming in
groups and so offices

Professor in audience says we have to figure out how to compensate for the nuances
lost in teleworking

Attendee points
out Department of Defense needs to consolidate facilities so why not telework
them to do their work, so the jobs may stay where the people now doing the work
are based - we have this issue here in Cleveland

Attendee points
out we need to look at levels of telework, telepresence and augmented
reality.