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Going to Work by Staying at Home

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but growing numbers of employees are finding that the best way to go to work is to stay home.

It’s a concept heartily endorsed by Dee Christensen, telecommunicating program manager for WSU Energy Extension. In fact, Christensen and her co-workers have developed nationally acclaimed telework programs that help employees work without going to the office.

Telework in Washington is still small, but growing. It more than doubled in the past five years, and Energy Extension has had a lot to do with the growing acceptance of this alternative work style.

An estimated 24 percent of Washington employers offer some form of telework to employees. The Washington State Department of Transportation reported that 2,442 employees (1.3 percent) did some telework in 1993. In 1995, the figure rose to 4,815 (2.3 percent) and in 1997 the figure was 5,467 (3 percent).

A national study estimates that 11.1 million Americans performed some telework in 1997, a 30 percent increase over 1996. The American Management Association predicts a 171 percent increase in the next two years.

Washington Dental Service, the largest provider of dental benefits in Washington state, is one of many companies that Energy Extension has helped adopt telework. CEO Jim Garrison not only instituted a telework program at Washington Dental Service in 1995, he is among the company’s enthusiastic teleworkers. He works at home on average three to four days per month. He frequently uses a morning or afternoon at his home office to catch up on one-to-one communications. “I can accomplish more reading, writing or analyzing in three hours at home than in three days in the office, because of fewer distractions and interruptions,” Garrison says. His company now has six full-time and more than 150 occasional teleworkers.

“We enjoy all kinds of side benefits, including space savings, employee retention, and a better work/life balance for employees,” Garrison says. “But the real story about telework is making better use of human energy.” Garrison says telework can lead to greater efficiency, increased productivity and to a higher-quality workforce.

Energy Extension also helped the Hewlett-Packard Company institute a pilot program at its Lake Stevens plant. It was so successful that in 1994 HP took the program to corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Today HP employs telework at all 28 of its major sites and more than 600 offices in 120 countries.

HP estimates 6 percent to 10 percent of its U.S. staff work at home at least once a week. HP sales offices throughout the nation provide “hot desks” for teleworkers. These are unassigned desks shared by employees who work at home most of the time, but come to the office once or twice a week. The hot desk concept allows companies to save overhead costs.

HP’s Bellevue office has nine hot desks. Sixty or more of its 250 employees work at home at least one day a week; 15-18 have home offices.

In addition to regular benefits, HP managers say telework has enabled critical employees to work when car trouble, a sick child or a snow storm otherwise would have kept them home.

The Boeing Company’s use of alternative schedules, including compressed work weeks, has been both deliberate and successful. After two years of experience with a pilot program Boeing now is implementing a full Virtual Office program.

Barbara Reeves, the company’s virtual office program manager, says the program allows employees to work from home or other alternate locations to reduce or eliminate commutes.

“We already have thousands of employees utilizing alternative schedules and expect to have thousands of employees who are telecommuting within the next year,” Reeves said.

“We have taken advantage of the excellent telework training videos provided by WSU.”

A training video is one of several services provided by WSU. Christensen and colleague Scott Decker conduct several workshops. They have established workshops or can tailor workshops to clients needs. Clients pay for some workshops, others are covered by grants to the WSU program.

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