It has been nearly a week since John A Cruz, a 32 year old account executive at Travelers Insurance has stepped foot in the office. Strangely, though his absence has gone virtually unnoticed there are no backlogs of messages or mail, and his managers do not appear the least bit concerned. Why? Because Cruz is one of the company’s telecommuters, which means that he works primarily out of his home. They do give you an option, if you think you need to come into the office for any reason, obviously you can come in any time you want, Cruz explained. But right now the push is toward working out of our homes and being more on the road.
Cruz is just one of the rapidly increasing numbers of American employees who have moved out of the traditional office environmental and into the ever expanding realm of telecommuting.
The growth of telecommuting has been especially pronounced in the insurance industry, where pressures to cut costs have led many companies to seek alternative ways of conducting business. The nature of the industry enables insurance companies to provide flexible working conditions for their employees, who can then spend more time on the road with clients. The great strides that have been achieved in telecommunication technology have made it possible for field agents easily and cost effectively to keep in close touch with their co-workers and managers without actually having to be present in the office. And managers have discovered that the host of telecommunication products – laptops, modems, cellular phones, voice mail, electronic mail, and pagers actually enable them to keep better track of employees, regardless of where they are.
Insurance agents have also been able to increase their productivity through telecommuting. Cruz’s task of evaluating a client’s risk/premium profile used to involve 30 separate steps and took about 40 days. But Cruz now has at his disposal software capable of revealing risk/premium discrepancies in no time at all. At the touch of a button, he can now use his portable laptop to access endless information and to accomplish in 24 hours what used to take 40 days to complete. As a result, Travelers is saving in the neighborhood of $6 million a year.
Telecommuting is not limited to insurance salespeople. Most workers not tied to fixed machinery could benefit from telecommunicating. Even managers are beginning to explore the nation.
When Bengston decided to try telecommuting some people feared that her communication with her employees would suffer and cause the quality of her department’s work to drop. But, as it turned out, interdepartmental communication actually improved and Bengston was easier to reach for phone consultations than she had ever been for in person interviews. Moreover her department’s productivity and quality of work even increased as employees took the initiative to work independently and aggressively in her absence.
Travelers as a company has benefited immensely from the introduction of telecommuting. Aside from monetary savings and enhanced productivity, telecommuting has also reduced absenteeism, improved opportunities for disabled employees, and increased the company’s ability to attract and retain talent. It’s an old notion that if you can’t see employees, you can’t manage them, explained Doug Willet, second vice president of Human Resources at The Travelers Companies in Hartford, Connecticut. Telecommuting supports our belief in the professional work force that is that all employees are professionals who can take individual initiative, target their own goals and work without constant supervision. Telecommuting is not an automatic answer for all companies, however. You have to be secure in your management skills. It is suggested by experienced bosses, have faith in your employees and not decrease your expectations.