Steering Committee Key to Start of 3M Health Information Systems’ Telecommuting Program

hen Wallingford-based 3M Health Information Systems (HIS) completed their telecommuting pilot program, management’s positive evaluation and review led to the implementation of a full-scale telecommuting program.

The concept of telecommuting at 3M HIS began two years earlier as an employee-driven initiative, coming out of a breakout session at an annual division employee conference. Software Specialist Diane Schienda led a discussion of 50 attendees, all eager to explore the prospects of a telecommuting program at 3M HIS.

Following the conference, Schienda created a web-based discussion group where interested employees could post questions and read about the conference session. "I then began searching for information about telecommuting," said Schienda, "and someone forwarded an article regarding Telecommute Connecticut to my email. As a result, I followed up with a letter to their website."

Shienda and six-sigma black belt Tammy Sparrow then met with representatives from Telecommute Connecticut who suggested a steering committee comprised of employees from each major functional area of the company. "Our sole goal was to say how this could benefit both the employee and the business," Sparrow said. "We had to understand what would make a successful program and we used Telecommute Connecticut to help us do that and also gather data for our proposal to management."

The Telework Steering Committee first outlined a schedule targeting when they wanted different sections of the proposal completed. "We also had a 'to do' list and Telecommute Connecticut would review it and make suggestions regarding which topics to discuss next, such as equipment and furniture, conditions for telework eligibility, and training," Schienda said.

“One of the committee’s larger projects was the evaluation of every company job role and job function to determine which jobs were conducive to telecommuting,” Schienda said.

Within a few months, the committee had all the research and documentation for their proposal completed including:

A few weeks later the Telework Steering Committee made their presentation to 3M HIS division management. "We presented the pros and cons," Sparrow said. "The employee benefits were clear, and the business value was a breakeven once the pros and cons were evaluated." Although the proposal met with unanimous support, division management asked that the steering committee for more details on some issues.

"They wanted to know the true costs involved in employee teleworking, and the amount of increased IT support that would be required," Sparrow said. Another issue that needed fine-tuning was productivity measurement. To resolve this, telecommuting candidates had to detail their work objectives in terms of productivity. " It was agreed that written objectives must be evaluated and approved for an employee to be approved for telecommuting," Schienda said. "Objectives had to be measurable and incorporated into the performance appraisal process."

Questions were also raised as to how to monitor the program and assure its continued success. "So we put in place a yearly manager/teleworker interview to see what's working and what's not, and how we were measuring productivity," Sparrow said.

The successful presentation to division management led to the appointment of an executive sponsor. "We reached the point where we needed - and requested-- someone in management to take responsibility for being a champion of the program," Schienda said.

The proposal was revised and utilized as an employee manual. A training program was put in place for the company as a whole, with a second program exclusively for the candidates declared eligible for teleworking and their managers.