If you want to be in touch with Allison Baker, a senior program manager at Sun, just give her a call. Arranging a face time appointment might be a bit more difficult since she works from any number of sites, including her home, her car, the BART...wherever she can find a hot zone. And, as Carolyn Said reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, Baker is one of the 43 percent or so of Sun's employees who use its iWork mobile-work program or telework (as it's more generically called) to help her help Sun save millions annually in real estate, electricity and system administration costs.
Said stresses the satisfaction Sun's senior management voices in support of iWork: "Sun says telework has saved it millions because the company needs less office space and fewer system administrators, but most companies adopt telework for other reasons: increasing employee satisfaction and productivity and planning for disaster recovery."
Earlier reservations in the industry over lost productivity have largely proven unfounded, according to Said, since increased employee satisfaction appears to figure importantly in keeping productivity levels high. Management also has devised performance measures that allow management-at-a-distance just in case the impulse to slack off gets hold of an employee.
The option of telework is catching on, albeit slowly. Citing a report from Human Resource consulting firm Hewitt Associates, which surveyed 936 large companies including 62 percent of the Fortune 500, Said reported that 32 percent of them offered work at home/telecommuting arrangements in 2004 - up slightly from 31 percent in 2003 and 29 percent in 2001.
Support for this modest growth lies in the conclusion drawn by Carol Sladek, a work-life consultant with Hewitt Associates, who told Said, "Individuals who've been allowed to work from home are typically as productive, if not more so, than they were in the office."
The practice has caught on with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well, Said reports. She notes that Sun, which has begun marketing its iWork system to clients who want to set up their own telework programs, lent the Board of Supervisors the equipment for the pilot for free.
Ten years of experience with the telework option has given Sun some sophistication in administering the program, according to Said. She quotes David Rush, a spokesman for Sun's iWork division, as saying the program is not popular with everyone, chiefly engineers and middle managers. "Some well-intentioned vice presidents struck mandates for their organizations that 'thou shalt go flexible,'" Rush said. That didn't prove popular. Now iWork is "a choice, not a mandate," he said.
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