New work styles work wonders at Telus

“To support people working when and where they can be most effective,” is how Telus Corp. executive Mark Lang characterizes the goal of the Workstyles Program being formally rolled out across his company today.

As HR Business Partner at Vancouver-based Telus, Lang has been a driving force behind the project. He outlined its evolution during a session at Showcase Ontario 2007, a public sector information technology education event, held in Toronto last week.

For the past couple of years, Lang has been studying, designing and mustering support for non-traditional work options – such as mobile working and teleworking – within the company. Many crucial elements of the telecom firm’s Workstyles Program are the acknowledged outcome of his efforts.

These include key components of the new Workstyles portal that goes live on Telus’ intranet Monday, and serves as a “one-stop resource” on telework for managers and employees (dubbed “team members” in Telus parlance).

Instead of a teleworking policy, Lang says the portal will offer “guidance and tools for managers and team members to have the conversation and make intelligent decisions.”

Team member resources on the portal include: telework guidelines, a telework agreement and checklist, as well as a learning guide on how to work virtually. There’s also a section on virtual workplace risks and precautions.

Lang says the inclusion of an entire section on team member resources demonstrates just how far Telus has traversed – and how quickly – in this exciting arena of non-traditional work options.

“Up until now, telework on our internal site was listed as a management-only program, which I find quite fascinating because we had 1,200 people already doing call centre work from home.”

But today all the “management-only” language goes away, and the program has been thrown open to all team members. The latter will also have a far bigger say than previously in the decision on whether or not they can telework.

The language on the site previously suggested that this was an arbitrary management decision, said Lang, though it wasn’t quite put that way.

Moving forward, he said, that decision will be “49 per cent team member, 51 per cent manager.”

But Lang didn’t quite spell out how this 49-51 per cent split would play out in the event of a disagreement between manager and team member on whether, and how often, the latter should telework, for instance.

The Workstyles launch at Telus is a milestone in a process that began more than a year-and-a-half ago.

Around that time, Lang reminisces, there was a growing awareness that work patterns were already changing very significantly within the company. “But there was also some discomfort, internally, about the full import of all of these changes, so we ran a couple of pilot programs.”

He said 170 Telus team members, who were already telecommuting, participated in one of the pilots. “There were many more, but we called on 170 and enabled them to measure the environmental and other benefits of teleworking, of not commuting.”

Telework tracking

This tracking was accomplished with tools and resources provided by Calgary-based Teletrips Inc., whose overarching goal, according to its Web site, is to “promote sustainable urban development [by designing] incentive based approaches to commuter trip reduction within the private and public sector.”

To this end, the company offers Web-based software – also dubbed Teletrips – that helps corporations and public sector organizations manage and audit trip reduction programs.

The software collects data from individuals participating in corporate telework programs, and uses this to measure key metrics such as time saved, as well as the environmental impact of not commuting each day to work.

In the Telus Workstyles pilot, all these metrics were meticulously tracked for participating team members. The results were “pretty staggering”, noted Lang.

By not commuting to work daily, he said, over the period of the pilot these 170 team members:

• Saved 13,865 hours of commute time

• Avoided $125,000 in fuel and maintenance costs

• Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 114 tons and air pollutants by four tons

The kicker was that 82 per cent of pilot participants said teleworking actually had a positive impact on the likelihood of them being retained as Telus employees.

According to one expert, the developments at Telus exemplify a growing trend across North American cities, where enterprises – both in the public and private sectors – are supporting alternative employee work styles.

Teletrippers rapidly growing

Teletrips founder and CEO Scott Fleming, who also spoke at the Showcase event, said today in North America today around 20 million people work from home a day each week.

He said analyst firms such as IDC and Gartner Group have predicted that number will spiral to around 100 million within the next five years. (Teletrips, however, forecasts a more conservative growth in the 50 million range).

In Canada, said Fleming, around 1.5 million people currently telework a day a week. “Within the Ontario government alone there are about 12,000 VPN hookups.”

Changing workforce demographics, said the Teletrips CEO, is a big driver of this trend. “Highly skilled youngsters are joining the workforce; they are very intuitive on the Web, and are demanding telework in their resumes and in job negotiations.”

These trends, recent studies indicate, are already having an impact on urban infrastructures and amenities.

For instance, an extensive study published last year by Los Angeles-based think tank The Reason Foundation indicates that telework is surpassing transit riding in 21 out of 50 major U.S. cities.

Fleming believes this trend will continue. “We know it’s big. It’s just that no one’s seen it right now – but it’s there.”

He said telecommuting has become especially common in certain professions. “Virtual call centre agents – such as those employed by Telus – represent an exploding market.”

The Teletrips CEO said for years his company has been empirically measuring the triple bottom-line benefits – economic, social and environmental – of telework, using a simple tracking system..

People who’ve been allowed to telework at a company fill in a short profile – which includes their name, vehicle type, distances usually driven to work. This information is tied in to the Environmental Protection Agency database.

Then these employees’ commute behaviour (days they teleworked or “green commuted” in a given time period) is also tracked. (Green commuting would include activities such as car pooling to get to work).

“We aggregate all this information and generate reports for the company.”

Teletrips, he said, also provides feedback to the employees on the impact of their telework/green commuting practices – including total hours saved, total pollutants reduced, and estimated vehicle maintenance costs saved.

This software that was used by 170 employees in the Telus pilot will be available to all 30,000 company team members from today.

Telus’ Lang noted that 18,000 of these staffers are alre

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