I generally am loathe to talk about something new before its tested and fully functional. However, at last week's Publishing Compensation meetings I heard several comments about why we're not talking about our telecommuting pilot program. I haven't been because its a test, meaning we don't know what we don't know and are trying to learn. Still, the enthusiasm for the test is such that a lot of people apparently want to know about it.
We began a pilot program in HR about 9 or 10 months ago, without telling anybody (including the ELT and my boss the CEO) what we were doing. The idea was this: if a face-to-face service department like HR could leverage the technology available to us with zero additional investment and no drop-off in service, then almost any business unit in the company could do the same. None of us own laptops, none of us carry a blackberry, and we committed no funds to the program. Instead, we worked with our IT department (and what great partners they are!) to install VPN software on our home PCs, an internal IM client (Pandion) on our work PCs, and otherwise we simply changed the methods by which we did our job. I offered the opportunity to work from home up to three half-days to my staff, and the three hourly team members declined citing that their work couldn't be done from home, and the three salaried staffers took me up on my offer.
We had some rough spots and a lot of kinks to iron out (this was a test, after all...) but at the eight month mark we felt good enough about the results to write it all up and make a recommendation to the ELT. Now, every EVP has been assigned by the CEO to identify a test group or groups in their division and we should be underway with those tests in 1 - 2 weeks.
Meanwhile, in the HR department, we're trying to stay ahead of the divisional tests and continue to experiment with new technologies and methods. I have offered 4 10-hour shifts to my hourly staff who can't work from home, in order to give them relief from high gas prices. I have expanded the salaried staff to two full days off-site, and installed web cams for my assistant, the salaried staff, and me. This cost us about $500 and is the first money we've spent on the test. IT installed these in such a way that they can be used at work then easily removed and taken home for off-site work. IT then installed Skype and Oovoo for video conferencing, and I've installed AIM Pro (the business version of AOL Instant Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger, both with one-click video conferencing. Starting next week, we will have all our departmental meetings with one or more members joining in via video conference. Also starting next week, we will have face-to-face video interviews with candidates before paying to have them travel to Nashville.
Where's this going? Well, its too early to tell just yet...its a test! What I hope to see out of this is in the short-term is relief for our staff from high commuting costs. What I'd like to see in the intermediate term is a 30% reduction in occupancy costs (see my earlier blog on that topic) in Nashville, which would give us savings literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Long-term, I'd like to see the critical learning of how to work together, virtually, across-town translate into learning how to work with each other cross-country (hello, virtual office in New York!) and then internationally. These skills will hasten the realization of our having operations all over the world (which we do to some extent now) that are fully integrated and aligned with each other and corporate headquarters. But for now, this is only a test....