It’s exciting to see how technology is being leveraged to drive leading edge HR management practices and significantly change work structure options. Faced with millennial’s desire for greater flexibility in work hours/location and greater use of technology, Telus Corp. began to explore work alternatives.

By internal review, Telus determined that technology and mobility options would ensure the attraction and retention of key skill sets. In addition, this initiative would also reduce their real estate footprint and cost, thus supporting their commitment to sustainability.

Under the strategic leadership of Andrea Goertz, chief communications and sustainability officer, Telus launched its flexible work programme in 2006.

Apart from executive commitment, there are three components that were key to the success of this project:

  1. The robust technology platform.
  2. The performance metrics that framed and drove success.
  3. Effective change management.

A breadth of technology solutions laid the foundation for the viability of this initiative. Mobile technology (smartphones, tablets, and Internet sticks), collaboration tools (voice and video conferencing, instant messaging and document sharing), and cloud-based applications and storage accessible from any device, helped to ensure that employees didn’t feel isolated, and collaboration was enhanced through these robust technologies.

To enable success, performance metrics were also a critical foundation piece. As a metric-driven organization, all employees have an individual scorecard that rolls up to the business unit, all the way up to the CEO. As a result, performance lapses from any employee would be evident, regardless of their work location.

Kudos to Telus for developing comprehensive performance metrics; this is not quick and easy but takes time, effort and commitment. Performance metrics are a critical piece to drive performance expectations and enable tracking of the effectiveness of remote work options. If an organization lacks these, then it would be much harder to determine if employees are really doing what they are supposed to be doing.

With team members in a variety of cities, Goertz emphasized that it has been the team members’ ability to produce that has made a difference, not the fact of where they work. And in my view, it is the metrics framework that enables everything to stay “on track.”

At the beginning of the project, Goertz acknowledged that there were growing pains. There were a number of adjustments to ensure that all HR practices and processes centred on measurable deliverables.

Beginning with approximately 2,000 professional employees of all age groups, Telus began to structure flexible working arrangements for those who worked in traditional office settings, those who were mobile and worked in a variety of remote settings, and those who worked remotely from their home. This meant there was a huge cultural shift for employees who were no longer working on-site and for their managers who no longer were able to manage their team in-person each day.

This required that the organization’s leaders be fully committed to driving the large-scale cultural shift. (I had previously written about the potential of technology becoming the boss of people, but in this context it is the human element that made this endeavour successful.)

This is where the importance of change management enters. If Telus had all the best technology options, the most comprehensive performance metrics, but had underestimated the significance of the initiative’s change management requirements, they would have failed.

A cardinal rule of effective change management is to communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. You cannot have enough communication. Involving employees and management in the process of change is critical. Goertz notes that flexibility, and a willingness to “give and take” during program setup was key, and regular town hall meetings fielded any issues or concerns from the team.

What have been the outcomes of this initiative? A newly released study by the Ivey School of Business found that Telus mobile and at-home workers are just as productive as their office-based colleagues – and they’re happier. The study also found that mobile and home-based workers experienced better work-life balance and were less inclined to leave their jobs.

Recently cited by Aon Hewitt as having engagement scores of 83 per cent – the highest score worldwide for a company of its size and workforce mix – confirms that Telus has clearly done something right. There is no question that this program has been successful for Telus and its employees.

There are additional benefits that Telus is accruing from this program’s success and it’s all about ROI and HR success driving a new revenue stream. Telus now provides both HR and technical expertise to organizations wanting to implement similar flexible work initiatives.

Clearly Goertz and the Telus team were forward thinkers when they began this journey in 2006 because there is now a growing in interest in flexible work options. According to 2013 a study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, more than 60 per cent of their workforce wanted a flexible working environment, and a 2013 IDC study predicted that 73 per cent of Canada’s workforce will be mobile by 2016.

Companies that don’t begin to innovate with flexible work practices will in all likelihood run the risk of losing their competitive edge, not to mention risk losing staff who are wanting the kind of flexibility and technology interfaces implemented by Telus.

Looking at their increased employee engagement, workforce attraction and retention, cost savings, and now revenue generation through their new consulting stream, the Telus experience was well worth the cost and effort.

To those organizations who may be sitting on the fence and wondering if they should pursue a similar approach, the answer would be a resounding yes. Its time to get with the program, and to embrace the opportunities flexible work arrangements allow.

 

 

 

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