CIGNA's Telecommuting Program Passes the Ten-Year Mark

Philadelphia-based CIGNA's telecommuting program has 2,500 full-time and 7,500 part-time telecommuters among its 40,000 employees since their program was formally launched in the spring of 1991. "We fully support telecommuting," says Deja Spigner, manager of the work/life program at Cigna. "It has been very successful for Cigna and we're going to continue with telework."

Prior to 1991, CIGNA offered telecommuting to categories of jobs defined as 'out of office': rehabilitation nurses and loss control representatives who spend time at client locations. In 1990, CIGNA undertook a study of employee needs for workplace programs. This research included a retention study of terminating employees as well as focus groups of current employees. The results indicated that employees viewed flexibility as a key need.

Thus in 1991, the company established structured agreements that detail everything required: space, equipment, scheduling, communications availability, conditions of employment -- and what happens to the employee if the situation doesn't work out. The organization provides a manager's guide as well as formal written agreements for documenting individual telework agreements. The company specified employee selection criteria includes:
· Ability to provide task coverage and interaction with others when needed.
· A minimum of six months prior service with the company;
· Demonstrated ability to perform up to standard;
· Available day care arrangements for telecommuters with small children or other relatives needing care.

CIGNA's formal agreements cover details such as:
· Effect on pay and benefits, performance standards
· Hours and location of work, overtime authorization
· Equipment provided by the company or by the employee
· Data Security and vigilance about avoiding computer viruses
· Backing up and storing data - with a copy sent to the office
· Home office requirements, i.e. three phone lines (computer, fax, phone)
· Management's right to change or terminate the arrangement.

"We have continued to reinforce the message that managing employees is about figuring out the results they generate and not face time," Spigner says. "When riding on the results an employee achieves, managing is much easier and the need to track face time is alleviated."

CIGNA lists the following as the initiative's key benefits:
· Enhanced ability to attract and retain employees
· Productivity improvements
· Reduced environmental pollution through reduced auto commuting
· Operating/capital cost reduction-the company can grow without proportionately adding to real estate expense; telecommuting currently saves the company at least $24 per square foot in real estate expense. That saving translates into millions of dollars annually.
· A survival/continuity aid in emergency situations that can disrupt working at the office or commuting to the office
· An aid in employing disabled people who can't readily commute
· Faster return to work for employees with temporary disabilities.

In the past few years, Cigna has learned that teleworkers often had no place to work when they occasionally returned for meetings or presentations. They often found themselves scrambling for a random desk to make phone calls or get some reading or computer work done between meetings. The company then set out to create suitable workspace for remote workers, says Lynne Kelley-Lewicki, director of Integrated Workplace Strategies with Cigna in Bloomfield, CT.

Kelley-Lewicki said when a tenant in Cigna's Phoenix office building vacated 1,700 square feet of office space, Cigna took over the space with plans to launch a pilot program. Cigna executives in Kelley-Lewicki's department designed the new workspace by considering teleworkers' work patterns, spatial and technology needs, and team working requirements.

In May, Cigna unveiled a new E*Work Touchdown Site in Phoenix to serve a variety of needs. It includes a reading and concentration area, a computer room, a phone/work area, and a small training or collaborative area. Wheeled furniture, equipped with desktop computers and network connections for workers with laptops, fostered collaboration. A storage room holds office supplies, and workers store their belongings in one of 36 lockers.

"We recreated the full infrastructure for the employee," Kelley-Lewicki says. Based on their needs, employees reserve the appropriate space, whether for team meetings and collaboration, private computer time, or just a quiet space to work between on-site meetings. All space is reserved on Cigna's Outlook program, which has been altered to double as a reservations system.

Cigna says they will be adding these "touchdown spaces" in more of its 250 offices for workers who occasionally need shared offices for meetings or social contact. It also has a call-forwarding system allowing untethered employees to answer their direct lines wherever they are.