Telecommuting Lessons

Telecommuting Lessons

Photo: David Croxford

ComTel uses telecommuting technology to help businesses save money and improve their employees’ quality of life.

For example, four years ago, after a pilot program allowed an employee and first-time mother to work from home, ComTel President Lou Darnell transformed his office staff into a “distributed” work force that communicates mainly through technology. The innovation slashed rent by 60 percent, cut parking costs by 90 percent, prevented layoffs in the recession and saved employees money. Half of the company’s 24 employees now telecommute. Now, ComTel is bringing this technology to its customers.

HB: What are the benefits of telecommuting?

“It reduces operating costs, reduces an organization’s carbon footprint – much less pollution and consumption of gasoline – and enables employees to have a better work-life balance.

“It doesn’t matter to me when they work; it matters if they produce what the job calls for. If I feel like working on a report at 10 p.m. on Saturday night, I don’t have to wait until Monday. When I’m in the mood to do something, I’ve got choices. If I want to go windsurfing, I go windsurfing.

“The average (telecommuting) employee across the country saves $8,000 a year in reduced personal costs. If a commute is an hour each way, then that’s two hours in a day — it’s a huge amount of time we waste bumper to bumper.”

HB: What challenges did you face?

“Obviously there’s got to be investment in technology, so for some businesses it could be pretty expensive.” (ComTel’s transition took about three months and Darnell says it will cost a business on average between $1,000 and $12,000.)

“It’s also harder to know what people are really feeling or thinking because you’re dependent on a technical interface.”

HB: How do you ensure productivity?

“Many supervisors are skeptical that employees will be productive when working remotely. But there are hundreds of case studies or research projects that have been conducted that show invariably if the right people are selected and you provide them with the tools they need to be effective, productivity has actually increased.”

(ComTel’s technology allows the company to remotely see employees’ availability, whether they have touched their keyboard or mouse in the past five minutes, what meeting they’re in or what phone call they’re on at any given time.)

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