Hard Numbers On Telecommuting

The Herman Trend Alert newsletter (sorry, no link) provides some interesting statistics from a Cisco survey:

Now the international technology giant Cisco Systems has just released a study of its own organization demonstrating these benefits and more. Using telecommuting, Cisco estimates annual savings of USD $277 Million. In its in-depth “Teleworker Survey” of almost 2,000 company employees, the company evaluated the social, economic, and environmental impacts associated with telecommuting.

The study found that telecommuting significantly increased employee productivity, work-life flexibility, and job satisfaction. In addition, the report cited that “a majority of respondents experienced a significant increase in work-life flexibility, productivity, and overall satisfaction as a result of their ability to work remotely”.

The productivity gains were impressive. Approximately 69 percent of the employees surveyed cited higher productivity when working remotely, and 75 percent said the timeliness of their work improved. Sixty-seven percent reported work quality improvement. Telecommuting can also lead to better employee retention; more than 91 percent of participants said telecommuting was somewhat or very important to their overall satisfaction and 80 percent believed they enjoyed an improved quality of life.

Couple things here – the study does appear to be self-reporting – “…of the employees surveyed cited….”  This type of reporting is always a bit of a concern.  It would be more helpful if there was a technique for putting an objective metric to their productivity.

Second, the value of telecommuting in a candidate’s eyes is noteworthy.  91% said it is very important to their overall satisfaction.  When it comes to hiring salespeople, this is a crucial fact to keep at the top of your mind when designing a compensation plan.

Telecommuter-Friendly Companies

A few months ago I posted on the rising trend of telecommuting.  The percent of companies that allow working from home has gone up dramatically over the past few years.  From our experience, that trend has been accelerating in just the past few months.  More companies are offering salespeople the option to work form home a few days a month once they are through their on-ramping process.  We are also being asked by sales candidates early in the process if telecommuting is an option.

Not all companies and positions have that flexibility, but that shouldn’t preclude you from looking for alternatives.  A recent article from the Workforce Management newsletter lists 7 companies that have done something about the concern of rising costs of transportation by offering help to their employees.  From giving them bus passes to cash rebates for buying hybrid vehicles to running shuttle services, these are just a few of the examples of what some companies are doing.  Some of the companies are large, like Microsoft, but here is what one small, 75 employee company is doing:

STS Telecom: The Cooper City, Florida-based provider of conventional and hosted Voice over Internet Protocol phone service reimburses employees for a portion of their daily commute—about $2 for each gallon of gas they use. In addition, the 75-employee company offers $250 toward the lease or purchase of a gas-electric hybrid car.

Let me give another example of a local, mid-sized company located here in Minnesota.  My sons bought a Mazda RX7 earlier this summer from a friend that lives in Southern Minnesota.  The previous owner decided to get rid of the car for several reasons.  First he & his wife were expecting their first child and a 2-seat sports car is not ideal for a family of 3.  The second reason was that the car only gets around 20 to 25 miles per gallon which isn’t bad, but there are a lot of cars available with better gas mileage.  But the final reason that motivated him to sell the car was the fact that his company was giving rebates to employees that bought hybrid or high miles per gallon vehicles.

You probably know that we are big proponents of telecommuting options for salespeople.  We speak to companies regularly that have not made any changes to help out with this hot topic.  Some of the questions to consider:

What jobs can you have telecommute on a full or part-time basis?
What is keeping you from allowing employees to telecommute?
What can you do to help out those that cannot telecommute?

This topic is going to become more prevalent, not less, in the near future.  If you plan to hire any salespeople in the near future, be prepared to discuss this topic.

An Electronic Leash

You just knew this was going to happen – companies are using technology to monitor remote employees.  The Wall Street Journal provides this article that illustrates what approaches are used by employers:

They’re taking photos of workers’ computer screens at random, counting keystrokes and mouse clicks and snapping photos of them at their computers. They’re plying sophisticated technology to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children crying in the background on workers’ home-office calls.

That seems quite invasive, but it appears telecommuters are generally willing to trade the invasiveness for the work-at-home option.  I’m not certain I would be so eager to allow this type of monitoring into my computer.  However, many companies do monitor employees in the office both electronically and directly (manager).

Sales is a bit simpler in that it is easy to know how well a salesperson is performing based on their revenue production.  Monitoring could be beneficial in ramping new hires, but success is still easily measured.

The Commute Question

We are sales recruiters so we have been fairly immune to this question, but it is even appearing in our world.  For salespeople, the question is some variation of “How often will I be expected to be in the office?”  This question doesn’t mean they are planning on playing hooky; the candidate simply wants to start the discussion about working from home, their car, coffee shops, etc.

The Career News newsletter (sorry, no link) offers up a quick article on this topic:

When it comes to making a living, how many miles would you travel? According to many hiring agencies and recruiters, people job hunting are taking climbing gas prices into consideration. “If we were looking at them commuting 20, 30, 40 miles for a work assignment, they’re hesitating,” Blaise Krautkramer at Firstaff Staffing Services said.

Each week, about 50 people walk into our agency office, all of them expressing serious concerns about these high gas prices. A fair amount of these people are passing up job opportunities. “The cost of gasoline is a component in their decision, and it’s a difficult decision for them,” Krautkramer said. A short commute is now a top priority for job seekers.

If you haven’t done any hiring recently, be prepared for this topic.

The Gasoline Tipping Point

$4.50 here in the Twin Cities.  According to this Pioneer Press story:

And if the price hits $4.50 per gallon, more than half of the commuters in the Twin Cities said they’ll be looking at changes in their daily commute.

The survey found commuters are most aggressive about looking for options in Atlanta, Dallas and the Twin Cities. They are slowest in San Francisco.

The gas price is a strong lever in sales recruiting right now, but you have to be prepared to discuss the reimbursement side of the equation.  We have noticed a definitive upclick in the discussion of mileage reimbursement/car allowance.  In fact, this topic is coming up in the first or second phone discussion.

Nationally, some 31 percent of 2,915 respondents indicated they’d be scoping out options once gas hits $4. That can include more flexible working hours, taking mass transit, telecommuting or other changes.

“Other changes” is where we step in.  Working closer to home or from home are important incentives in today’s market.  If your company does not have a remote workforce option, you need to implement one – it is that important for sales.  Second, use this option in your sourcing efforts.  I guarantee this topic is at the forefront of almost every salesperson’s mind.

Jobhopping And Nomadism

I have a friend who is one of the steadiest guys in the world.  He is extremely talented, has worked for some large companies and has an impressive list of degrees.  However, he has been working on his career path since the moment he graduated college in 1992.

He has worked for 4-5 year stints at a few companies before joining a company now that is the realization of his chosen path.  The humorous aspect of his journey is that his employer is an old company.  Their initial review of his stellar resume was this – he is a jobhopper.  I still laugh when I think about that line applied to him.

It is all perspective, right?  He thought his 5 year stints were fairly secure while this company viewed it as risky.  He got the due to a strong recommendation despite the hiring manager’s concerns.  My friend has since started to climb up the corporate ladder with one success after another.

His story came to mind when I read this article from abcnews.com.  The article speaks to the increasing number of employees who work from home.  But tucked inside the article is this information (emphasis mine):

Having to replace a star employee who flies the coop can cost a company 150 to 200 percent of that worker’s salary, Seitel says. Considering Millennials and some of the youngest Gen X employees job-hop every one to three years, she adds, that turnover gets pretty pricey. Employers must spend time and money to hire and train new employees while sustaining losses in productivity, she said.

The hiring manager from my friend’s company would have a myocardial infarction if he read that statistic.  Every 1 to 3 years they change jobs!  The entire jobhopping definition is going to be turned on it’s ear by Gen Y.  They are looking for a career path like my friend except they are not going to be as patient.

Retention will continue to be a top priority this year and will increase with time.  Nomadism is going to be one important, low-cost tool for companies in their quest to keep their top employees.

What Is A Flexible Work Strategy?

Apparently the answer to that question depends upon whom you ask.  From an older RecruitingTrends.com article:

Furthermore, executives’ innate understanding of what defines flexible work strategies varies. While the largest percentage (45%) define it as pertaining to time, 31% view it as something to do with an employee’s location, and another 23% see flexible work arrangements as something other than time or location.


I would fall in the “Flexible location” group in terms of defining it.  It would appear that this relatively new phrase requires a better definition.  Or perhaps all new phrases and terms begin with some ambiguity.

Telecommuting Is Old School, Nomadism Is New School

The modern workplace is shifting towards a more ad hoc approach vs. a scheduled interaction according this The Economist’s excellent article Labour movement.  This article defines nomadism in the current work world:

Today’s work nomadism descends from, but otherwise bears little resemblance to, the older model of “telecommuting”, says Mr Ware. That earlier concept became popular in the 1990s thanks to cheap but stationary telecommunications technologies—the landline phone, the fax and dial-up internet. Because it still tied workers to a place—the home office—telecommuting implicitly had people “cocooning at home five days a week”, he says. But people do not want that: instead, they want to mingle with others and to collaborate, though not necessarily under fluorescent lights in a cubicle farm an hour’s drive from their homes. The crucial difference between telecommuting and nomadism, he says, is that nomadism combines the autonomy of telecommuting with the mobility that allows a gregarious and flexible work style.

That is an excellent explanation, isn’t it?  This trend is already in place and growing.  Mobility has become the emancipating factor in the equation.  Large companies are jumping into the nomadic ways too:

At Sun Microsystems, a company that makes hardware and software for corporate datacentres, more than half of the workforce is now officially nomadic, as part of a programme called “open work” in which employees have no dedicated desk but work from any that is available (called “hotdesking”), or do not come into the office at all.

And one good outcome of this?

Mr Schwartz, like Messrs Boyd and Coburn, has also noticed that he is having fewer “flesh meetings”.

…With more than 100,000 customers, he finds that he communicates far more efficiently through his blog, which is translated into ten languages and “on a good day reaches 50,000 people.”

…But in general he finds that “face-to-face is overrated; I care more about the frequency and fidelity of the communication.”

The article is long, but well worth the read.

Web Commute

That is a term coined by Citrix and one I suspect we will see with some frequency.  If gas goes to $4/gallon, I suspect these articles will publish daily.  ManageSmarter.com offers up an article discussing the preference of today’s workers to have technological flexibility in their job.  The key here is the demographics of the results (emphasis mine):

…U.S. workers aged 18-34 prefer flexible working conditions two-to-one over other age groups.

In fact, 70% of survey respondents agreed that working remotely would be a welcome opportunity. In an era where acquiring and retaining good employees is a challenge, and the workforce is becoming increasingly young and mobile, offering the ability to Web commute can serve as a competitive edge for recruiters.

We encounter this fact daily in our sourcing activities.  In fact, we are seeing the web commute question coming up in discussion with older candidates too.  In sales, these tools are essential.  Sales has always operated outside of the company walls, but these tools allow outside salespeople the ability to have a completely mobile office which is a relatively new capability.

We have placed a handful of Gen Y salespeople recently and they all highly value remote tools.

Overall, the younger the respondent, the more apt he or she was to perceive value in online tools and services that enable them to work remotely.
The difference between the values expressed by younger workers versus others makes sense, given the proportionally higher familiarity with the Internet among Generations X and Y than among older workers. “As Baby Boomers retire, employers will be forced to compete for younger workers, for whom technology is a native tongue,” says Kellyanne Conway, CEO and president of the polling company, inc. “Offering the ability to Web commute is an easy way to provide a valued benefit to this age group.”

Today, it is difficult to compete for younger workers if you do not offer the technology that is their “native tongue.”  In the near future, you will not be able to compete at all for their services unless you offer these tools.

One item that often gets overlooked is that these younger workers use the tools at all hours.  We work with these salespeople to help get them onramped during their first few months at the new job.  I am always amazed at the hours I can reach them electronically.  They do not confine their work day to a traditional 8 to 5 schedule.  If you provide them the tools, they will use them well beyond your assumptions.

Fast Facts About Telecommuting

Seems like our small-sized companies are catching on to the telecommuting option this year which is a bit of a change.  I think a good post would be one that lays out a salesperson’s tools of the trade for today.

Included in that list would be a web-based CRM and a VPN connection for telecommuting.  No?  Check these stats out from a recent Wall Street Journal article (h/t to Lee):

Seventy percent of Cisco Systems employees regularly work from home at least 20% of the time. So do 34% of workers at Booz Allen Hamilton and 32% at S.C. Johnson & Sons. Those stats, from a recent Fortune companies survey say a lot about flexible work these days. It’s becoming a way of working that benefits both the employee and employer, says Nicole Saulnier, a human resource manager for Rothstein Kass, an accounting firm in Roseland, N.J., that also believes in flexibility. “Happy employees are more productive,” she says. “If a flexible work arrangement will help them reach their full potential, we want to foster that.”

Salespeople have always been telecommuters to some extent, but today there are tools available to make their offices completely remote…and fully functional.