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In the wake of the terrible tragedy in New York and at the Pentagon, perhaps we need to reevaluate the way we handle and position our workforce. The World Trade Center was a huge target containing a congregation of thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies. In such a situation, in many cities, the idea of implementing a telecommuting strategy to decentralize the workforce would not only save lives, but also reduce the hit taken by many companies.
--- Never again! ---
I recently spoke about this current national situation with the heads of several companies with which I've worked. All of them replied in a way that made me realize that they were more concerned about the safety of their employees and the future of their companies than their current income potential or stock dividends.
One of the big concerns raised by these company chiefs was that they were not sure how their sales force would operate under these conditions. Face-to-face meetings with current and potential clients were cancelled and, for the most part, not rescheduled. Many of the clients, however, were comfortable at setting up video-conferencing systems to support a minimal face-to-face meeting and most of the "sales calls" went on without a hitch. Basically, a way was found to resolve the issue and American business continued.
According to one company in New York, there was no way that they would work in such a tower again, nor would they recruit anyone to do so. They feel that the era of American glory through skyscrapers is over, but they must continue their business, only in safer corridors.
--- Decentralize the Work Force ---
I've visited the World Trade Center on numerous occasions and periodically visit my office in mid-town. Each block has more people than the entire county in which I lived in Colorado. This massive congregation of people is a wonderful site, however, in the wake of this maniacal attack, it is also a devastation waiting to happen.
Within the World Trade Center, there were in excess of 50,000 people. Not only does such an attack destroy the lives of thousands more, but it also affects the economy in one, sharp blow. By decentralizing the workforce, we are not only making an attempt to save lives, but we are also making an attempt to save the economy from future blows of this magnitude.
Additionally, a decentralized workforce would support a means of allowing face-to-face client calls within the locale of the individuals. This will reduce flight costs and the time spent travelling as well as enhance the safety of the individual employees.
Of course, this will place added responsibilities on individual employees. In some cases, for example, software developers would have to make customer support calls and essentially become sales people. Perhaps the idea of a jack-of-all-trades might make a comeback and support American business in different ways.
--- Implementing a Telecommuting Policy ---
Currently, many companies have cast telecommuting aside. They claim loss of production, lack of discipline, and other such reasons. It is, however, the responsibility of the organizations themselves to implement checks and balances to ensure that the workers are producing as expected, just as occurs within a physical office environment.
Of course, many positions require some face-time. In such situations, perhaps companies can implement an alternating schedule where individuals in such positions would be in the office a certain number of days per week. Many positions can, however, be performed 100% of the time from home or from a remote office environment.
At this point, companies should evaluate the options available for providing a telecommuting work environment for their employees. This approach can benefit companies by minimizing their required office space as well as keeping hoards of people out of a central location for extended periods of time.
--- Freestanding Telework Centers ---
Through a consortium of government and business, freestanding telework centers can be created around the nation to provide a place for workers to go for virtual meetings, to use equipment, and to perform tasks that would otherwise require some type of face-time.
A freestanding telework center is an office suite or building dedicated to supporting workers whom "telecommute" to their jobs. The idea behind a freestanding telework center is that it is intended to be private for those companies that subscribe to the service. Additionally, by-the-hour telework centers can provide access to restricted public use for those who perform freelance or other such contract-based work.
The government is currently leading in this direction because government regulations are pushing to cut down on employment-related commuter trips and vehicle miles. To assist us in moving in this direction, think about the following three types of telework centers:
- Satellite Centers These are generally freestanding telework centers built and operated by a single company for the exclusive use of its own employees.
- Executive Centers These are generally freestanding telework centers built and operated for profit. The operator opens the telework center and offers its facilities to anyone needing a workspace. Included in this category would be small, neighborhood telework centers, as well as large, centrally located centers.
- Shared Office Sites These are conventional central offices that employers make available on an exchange basis for the part-time use of workers who live nearby. Shared office programs hold great potential for eliminating commuter trips and vehicle miles. Once in place, these programs can allow employees to work at the closest participating site rather than the one to which they would otherwise have to commute.
--- What's next? ---
With this devastation, the world is in flux. Public and governmental organizations are rethinking their strategy worldwide to ensure a safer future for everyone. Perhaps, it is now our turn to rethink our strategy with the workforce.
People are the most valuable asset in any business and businesses are assets to the economy. In both cases, a decentralized workforce, using a solid telecommuting policy, would provide a safer future for individuals, businesses, and the American economy.
May God bless the souls of those who perished and bring peace to the families whose loved ones are missing.
Edward B. Toupin is a freelance consultant, writer, and published author living in Las Vegas. Edward provides quality Web site design, development, and marketing as well as writing, document design and planning, and e-book publishing services. You can visit his Web site at http://www.toupin.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.