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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Work From Here

I've had a couple of questions lately about the future of Work From Home. To be completely transparent, we've fielded questions from Board members and executives alike on what this program is and does. Here's an update that might surprise you.

WFH was a response to two pressing issues several months ago. Gas prices had gotten to around $4/gallon in Nashville, and with headcount reductions we were spending about $350k in rented office space charges for room we didn't need. We didn't have enough space in the Corporate Office building to close Lakeview Place. I became concerned that increased commuting cost would lead to a call for a cost of living increase that the company couldn't afford in an economy growing more unstable by the day.

The answer, as my grandmother would have said, was as plain as the nose on your face. Develop the systems for remote work, require space sharing as a condition of working remotely, reduce commuting costs to their pre-gas-hike levels (by reducing the number of trips), and get out of LVP.

Today gas prices are down below their pre-WFH levels. We are out of LVP and have, as I understand it, about half of that space leased. Let me be very clear to anyone reading; we would not have been able to move out of LVP and get all office staff into Corporte without WFH.

So what's next for WFH? Candidly, nothing. This is a program that has served its purpose. HR will not be promoting it further because the business necessity for it has passed. Going forward, jobs that make sense to perform remotely should be done off-site, and jobs that make sense to be performed in the office should be done in-house. People who work in the office most of the time may, on occasion, need a day off-site to perform work requiring concentration and that should be allowed.

Every business cycle has its unique needs, and now I wonder if the most pressing need for the company is to have more people in the office more days. We have fewer bodies, and in service departments such as HR WFH could reduce customer service during lunch hours and the upcoming vacation season. In a market where we're looking for every sales and product idea, face-to-face collaboration is more important than ever.

This isn't a mandate or an announcement of a change in policy; I don't run any business unit but my own. I do believe however that some of you should consider shifting your schedule to more days in the office. We can take advantage of being on one campus and build the type of teamwork needed in this challenging climate. The day will come again when we'll grow. Instead of then renting another building, we can leverage what we learned implementing WFH to keep our space charges low, generate cash, and pay down our debt.

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