Nortel: Telecommuting 10 Years Strong
Telecommuting program evolves into a comprehensive mobility program

For networking products provider, Nortel, nearly 2 out of 3 employees (approximately 65 percent) take regular advantage of the ability to securely access corporate systems — intranet, email, people directories, business applications — from somewhere other than a traditional office desk.

"I'm very fortunate, because we have access to all the latest products and services, which allow us to work remotely yet give us a sense of presence," says Valerie Oliver, manager of global employee communications for Nortel. "I hit the keyboard at six o'clock this morning when my energy level is higher.”

“Being able to get that early start is one major advantage to working from home,” Oliver said. “The business day in Europe is well underway at 6 a.m. Nashville time, so I've got requests to post or write stories coming in from Europe or coming in overnight from Asia. I can start my day early, without wasting time in traffic."

Oliver is one of 8 percent of Nortel employees who work from home on a permanent, full-time basis.

The results of Nortel’s telecommuting program, now called the Mobility Program, are:

Nortel telecommuters are typically Executives/Managers; Sales, Marketing, and Technical personnel, Project Managers, Software Developers, Training Instructors and support staff.

Since becoming one of the first generation of Nortel telecommuters, Margaret Rodwell has worked primarily at home, where she has been able to improve her work/life balance while increasing productivity as a Sales Compensation Analyst.

“When I first started working from home, I had a very young baby and lived over an hour’s drive from the office. It was the ideal arrangement for me to not have to commute in every day,” Rodwell said. “There are fewer distractions while I’m at work, telephone calls tend to be more focused, and above all I can work when I don’t feel one hundred percent. In the last nine years there have been several occasions where I wouldn’t have managed a full day at the office. However, I can stay in touch by email or by phone, and make sure any urgent tasks are accomplished.”

The History of Telecommutinging at Nortel
In 1994, Nortel’s Information Services (IS) team, working in close collaboration with the departments of Human Resources, Real Estate, Finance, Risk Management, and Health and Safety, started to pilot telecommuting in several sites to assess the benefits of telecommuting. “We spent a lot of time developing the policies and understanding how people work, and the company is very careful to assess whether or not both the employee and the organization as a whole will benefit from enabling particular individuals to work flexibly,” said Rodwell.

The collective teams at Nortel developed multiple guidelines, processes and checklists such as:

Program Management

People Management

Real Estate Management
In 2004, a Nortel Real Estate team study revealed 40 percent of the assigned employee office space was not being used on average. The study found most employees were working from “collaborative” areas, e.g., in conference rooms, and remotely from other locations.
"When they get together, workers were looking to collaborate in shared spaces. So why have all these empty cubicles?” Nortel CIO Albert Hitchcock said. “We're working closely with our real estate organization to further consolidate so offices revolve around shared spaces and conference rooms, with private cubicles assigned in a hoteling fashion."

As of April 2005 there’s a 65 percent employee participation in full and part-time telecommuting. The company equips all its employees with a wireless laptop configured with the Nortel’s VPN client software and Tunnel Guard firewall (checks each PC to ensure they meet a pre-defined Software Requirement Set: a security policy, personal firewall, antivirus software and appropriate operating system patch levels. Users can be denied access or have access restricted based on compliance status.) This provides IPSecurity authentication, encryption and protected application access for both voice and data to the corporate network. Each laptop also is configured with Nortel's Multimedia Communications Server VoIP software for voice and video calls, find-me-call-me phone, instant messaging, videoconferencing and a variety of collaboration tools. With the laptop, employees can connect to Nortel's internal network via dial-up, broadband, 3G wireless or Wi-Fi - from anywhere in the world.

"It's common now for employees to work at a hotel, on a customer premises, or in a Starbucks café," Hitchcock says. "Essentially, they can work as if they're sitting at a desk in a Nortel facility, so it really makes no difference where they are."

Telecommuting has become an integral part of the corporate Business Continuity Program (BCP). CD’s containing stripped down versions of common business applications were mailed to all employees, essentially equipping employees to be prepared for almost any BCP event, should they need to use their home computer.

When much of the Northeast had mandatory power restrictions in the aftermath of the August 2003 power blackout, remote working options allowed thousands of Nortel employees to work from home. Nortel estimates that it maintained approximately 70 to 85 percent productivity during this time.

Nortel also successfully used telecommuting during periods of growth and reduction. For example, in the mid to late 1990s, when there was a shortage of real estate space, several hundred employees in Richardson, Texas began working at home to relieve office space constraints. Conversely, when a number of buildings were closed in the early 2000s, a significant number of Nashville-based employees opted to telecommute from home over relocation.

“There are some enormous benefits to giving employees the ability to work from home or on the road. It enables improved employee productivity, satisfaction and retention. It means our real estate organization can redefine the corporate workspace environment by creating more flexible offices, as opposed to hard-walled, fixed-desk offices,” says Hitchcock. “Telecommuting is a key catalyst to our work anywhere, anytime philosophy.”