Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

A Case for Telecommuting

In January, Westaff Inc., the company that franchises our offices, asked me to become vice president of franchising for the entire company. Accepting the position would lend some credence to our succession planning as we transition our company to our son James and our daughter-in-law Karen. This looked like a wonderful opportunity. The only problem is that Westaff is in Walnut Creek, Calif., and I am in Burlington, Vt., and I have no intentions of moving.

In due course, we negotiated an employment contract, which said that I could work from home. I joined the age of the telecommuter. 

This was interesting, because I had some doubts about telecommuting and its effectiveness. I could now see whether this great social experiment could work, and the guinea pig — or lab rat — was me.

In the 16 weeks since I assumed my new role, I have been home for eight and traveling for eight more. I have visited some of the world’s more interesting spots — Monroe, La., Owasso, Mich., and Alexander City, Ala., to name a few. I have a sleek new Treo cell phone that keeps me up with my e-mail, as well as my phone calls and calendar. I have my laptop computer and a printer at home — and one also at my summer cottage on Lake Champlain. 

On a recent Monday, I saw just how advantaged companies are that allow telecommuting. 

I started the day at the Y at 6:30 in the morning. I was home by 7:30, and I had a quick breakfast while pursuing the first of the day’s e-mails. I told my wife that I would be going to Rotary at noon and I would see her in the evening. The day’s calls began.

I missed Rotary that day because we had a conference call at noon. That is only 9 a.m. in Walnut Creek, a perfect time for a meeting. I grabbed a quick sandwich and worked while I ate, and then wrote an outline for a presentation that I needed to give during the following week (on my ninth trip of the year). All the while, I received more e-mails and made more phone calls. I left my home-office at 5:45 — 10 hours and 15 minutes after I arrived. I realized that I was still in my gym clothes.

All of this relates to employment issues because you may be struggling with the concept of telecommuting yourself. My verdict: It works. Your company can help ease the current and pending employment crisis by using this imaginative approach. Consider the following:

1. Telecommuters are very aware of the need to be productive and are much more prone to work hard all day to justify the faith shown in them. 

2. Telecommuters have fewer, not more, distractions, as they are truly alone. My only visitor all day was our family cat, and, when he realized I was not going to feed him, he left.

3. Everything today is virtual. It does not matter whether I am home, at an office, at my camp in Alburgh or in an office anywhere. All I need is a phone and my laptop, and I am perfectly ready to work.

4. Telecommuting is not for everyone, but mothers, handicapped people and people like me who live 3,000 miles from their offices are ideally suited to it.

5. Having telecommuters will expand the available work force for our companies without the need for extra space.

My next-door neighbor in Alburgh telecommutes from Baltimore and comes to Alburgh only when he needs a few days in his “real” office. He and his company are most happy with their arrangement.

I am happy with mine, too. •

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

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