a telecommuting program
can positively impact
your bottom line.
What's Good for the Employee is Good for the Organization
Telecommuting - an option that promotes work/life balance and employee morale - is gaining popularity among Connecticut employers.
Companies are becoming a lot more flexible. With gas prices at record highs and little relief in sight, businesses are discussing gas allowances with new employees and are considering telecommuting as a powerful tool to attract and retain talent. It is estimated that the average employee spends an hour and a half every day commuting to work and back. The option to telecommute promotes work/life balance and boosts employee morale, company spokespeople say.
Telecommuting Connecticut! - a state-wide initiative that provides assistance, free of cost, to employers for implementing telecommuting as a worksite alternative - has teamed up with the Connecticut Business & Industry (CBIA) to impress upon organizations the benefits of telecommuting.
According to Telecommute Connecticut, 44 percent of companies nationwide offered telecommuting as an option to employees in 2005, an increase of 32 percent from 2001. As of 2004, an estimated 44.4 million telecommuters made up 20 percent of the workforce. This number is expected to burgeon to 60 percent by 2010. In Connecticut alone, approximately 117,000 employees telecommute each day.
Robert Half International (RHI), the world's largest staffing firm, sees greater flexibility within corporate America today. "What we are basically seeing in our candidates who come to us looking for work, is that the commute is an increasingly important consideration, especially here in Connecticut," says Patricia Bromme, vice president for the Connecticut region. "The war for talent is still on. The competition has to be more creative in their approach to attract that talent."
Some of the significant trends besides telecommuting include split shifts, the option to work from different locations, and a higher increase in gas allowances, she observes. According to a recent national survey by RHI, 47 percent of executives polled were in the process of increasing expense guidelines for mileage costs, 37 percent allowed more telecommuting and 35 percent encouraged rideshare or carpooling programs. Thirty-one percent said they were open to employees working at office locations closer to their homes.
Jean Stimolo, project manager for Telecommute Connecticut, says, "Telecommuting in Connecticut is growing leaps and bounds. Everyone benefits. It's a win-win situation."
According to a recent national survey that recognized the "Best Cities for Telecommuting in America," Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven were ranked the first, third and sixth best medium metro areas to telecommute, respectively. "It's a process," says Stimolo. "We are starting to see more interest from employers."
Telecommute Connecticut's programs, which are funded through federal and state grants through the Department of Transportation, consist of customized evaluations of individual companies for setting up pilot telecommute programs. An evaluation lasts anywhere from three to six months, and the organization stays on in a consulting role even after all systems are in place, Stimolo says.
Peter M. Gioia, vice president and economist for CBIA, says the association's collaboration with Telecommute Connecticut was born out of mutual interest. "Their goals fit with several of our agenda items, including workforce availability, productivity and commuting." A long commute is a problem - particularly in Fairfield County, where housing prices have driven employees out of the immediate area and into more distant towns, resulting in much longer commutes to work. This adds to increased road congestion, time away from family and added expenses, he points out.
Probably no one knows the value of Telecommute Connecticut better than Michele Henry, vice president of The Pension Service in North Haven, whose organization, consisting of about 35 employees, has been toying with the idea of introducing telecommuting for years, but lacked the know-how.
"Our experience with Telecommute Connecticut was wonderful," she says. During a six-month pilot program, consultants from the organization worked individually with employees at The Pension Service to help them evaluate whether telecommuting was a good option for them. Telecommute Connecticut followed up after systems were in place. Currently, about a third of The Pension Service's employees telecommute.
The benefits to the company? Being able to hire from a wider radius, having employees work in inclement weather, and recruiting and retaining talent, says Henry, who adds, "People like to hear that you trust them. It has helped morale, making productivity better."
Tina Michaud, team leader for The Pension Service, has been telecommuting every Friday since the program began last fall. "It's been wonderful. It's good for the company and good for the employees," she believes. A mother of two young children aged two-and-a-half and six years, Michaud has a babysitter when she is working out of her home office, and says she is more productive on those days. The way the phones and computers are set up, clients don't realize she is not in the office; co-workers dial her extension at work and she takes the call at her home office.
Pitney Bowes in Stamford has enjoyed the benefits of telecommuting since the late 1990s. Matthew Broder, vice president of external communications, says "telecommuting is a natural extension to our progressive approach to attracting people. If you want to be competitive, you have to get creative."
An estimated 200-250 of the 4,000 employees at Pitney Bowes telecommute on a regular basis. "Between laptops, high speed Internet connections and improved technology, it is not difficult for employees to work at home," says Broder. The costs of implementing telecommuting are minimal, when compared to the benefits, several participants point out. Companies typically purchase laptops instead of desk top computers and add security layers to the Internet access. "What it really takes is trust," Broder explains. "People get a sense of empowerment and it sends a powerful message to employees, that we care about their talent. We will invest so they can work where they are most productive. Usually what makes the most sense for the employee, makes good sense for the company."
Patricia Ann Chaffee is a freelance writer based in Mystic. Her work has
appeared in Connecticut Magazine, Cape Cod Magazine and numerous other local