With two years to go the telco is close to getting 70 per cent of its urban workers out of the office

Sometimes the last 10 per cent is the hardest, goes a saying.

Telus Corp. is about to find that out as it heads towards the goal of having 70 per cent of its Canadian staff in large cities working from home or on the road by 2016.

According to Andrea Goertz, the telco’s chief of communications and sustainability office, today 60 per cent of the target staff work mostly from home or are permanently  out of the office.

The Vancouver-based company has some 28,300 staff here.

The target was set in 2006 as part of an effort to save money that could be plowed into refurbishing or building new (and smaller) offices. So with two years to go, she’s confident the target will be met.

Only staff who have to be in contact with technology, who are on projects or who have to meet with customers are exempt from what is called the WorkStyles program.

Abandoning the regularity of coming to an office, the prestige of a private office or giving up the abilty to walk down the hall and see colleagues wasn’t easy for some, she said in an interview. Some didn’t like to have to work from a shared desk. Others weren’t anxious to work from home.

“Initially we had challenges with folks understanding what some of the team norms would be. We had some issues with change management — people trying to understand how they could alter their management style if they couldn’t speak to staff during the day.”

There were also problems with launching the program in offices that were simultaneously closing or changing to open offices — in other words, doing two things at the same time.

“In some instances it probably would have been nicer to go a little more slowly, but we had lease commitments and pressures in terms of time to get out of space.”

Groups had to create “team rules” to keep communications going with most out of the office — for example, holding a regular in-office staff meeting on set days, or regular meeting place for coffee once a week. Where there were open offices with no set desks some places set up “quiet zones” where voices had to be kept low.

There is no set of rules for this, Goertz said: People have to agree to what works for their needs.

Among the lessons learned are:

–Executives need to be on board and very supportive of the program. In any organization there are things that have to be customized, she said, and the only way for that to be successful is with leadership backing;

–Communicate closely with staff early. Understand and meet their concerns;

–Ensure there is good governance. At Telus [TSX: T] there’s an executive review of progress every six months.

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