Emptying the office: the teleworking revolution begins here

By the end of this year, networking and Internet technology supplier Nortel Networks expects to have more than 10,000 of its...

By the end of this year, networking and Internet technology supplier Nortel Networks expects to have more than 10,000 of its 70,000 worldwide workforce using some form of teleworking, writes Liz Warren

Nortel is taking this bold step because its experiences have shown that there are sound managerial and financial benefits to be achieved through teleworking, especially in a rapidly growing company.

Christian Haas, manager of Nortel's teleworking project, which is called Homebase, says there are three drivers behind the move to teleworking.

Staff retention

Nortel faces the pressures of recruiting and retaining staff in an industry where skills are scarce and human capital is important to the company's success. When staff began to ask for the option to telework, it became obvious that teleworking was one way to tackle those issues.

Haas says staff are mainly looking for more flexibility in the way they arrange their working lives around domestic commitments. He has been able to move from the UK to Germany while keeping the same job.

Teleworking certainly seems to have had the desired effect. Last year's employee satisfaction survey showed retention was 16% better among teleworkers than office-based staff, while job satisfaction levels were 11% higher and teleworkers were 17% more productive.

Reduced costs

The second driver for teleworking is the need to reduce costs and get a better return on assets. "Real estate is the second biggest overhead in most companies after salaries, so moving people out of the office can bring huge savings," Haas points out.

For example, in the UK, Nortel spends an average of $12,000 (£7,500) a year per employee on real estate. As the company expands, teleworking provides opportunities for cost avoidance.

On top of that, since many people do not actually spend much time in the office, combining remote working with hot desking helps the company to get better use out of its office space. Worldwide, Nortel estimates that teleworking is already saving it $40m a year in real estate costs alone.

Staff mobility

The increasing mobility of the workforce means that staff now need to be able to work productively in any place and at any time.

This does not only apply to sales staff. The global nature of Nortel's business means conference calls with colleagues overseas outside normal offices hours are a necessary part of the job for many employees. Technology allows them to make calls from home rather than having to stay at the office until late at night.

In fact, one of the strengths of Nortel's teleworking programme is that staff are able to use teleworking in different ways. For example, some work almost entirely from home, making occasional trips to the office for meetings. Others are nomadic and have technology and services that allow them to be equally productive wherever they are. Others work from home for one or two days a week and have a conventional office existence for the rest of the time.

In addition, many staff are casual teleworkers who simply want to check their e-mail when they get home after a day away from the office or who need to participate in conference calls outside normal office hours.

Teleworking is an option for almost all staff at Nortel. In practice, staff consult their managers to determine whether a job lends itself to teleworking - and whether the employee is temperamentally suited to a teleworking life.

"Teleworking isn't for everyone," Haas says. "Some people don't feel confident or they may not have the discipline to do it or they like the social contact of the office.

"However, among those who have tried teleworking, I don't know of any cases where people have come back to the office," Haas says.

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