As business owners, managers and senior executives in whose care hundreds and thousands of employees are placed, what have we learned from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11? That if there had been preplanning, with workers being allowed or encouraged to telecommute, the death toll could have been reduced.
These were office buildings, not shopping malls, manufacturing plants, distribution centers, hospitals, entertainment venues, restaurants, houses of worship or other locations where face-to-face and hands-on contact are necessary.
A distributed or disbursed work force reduces the need for a large number of people housed at one site. The connectivity is available to provide computer, data and telephone access to people within and without the employers facility or campus. Is there really a justification to put large numbers of people in offices sorting papers, word and data processing, and talking on the phone?
Some managers who fight change rationalize their reasons in such fashion as, "Weve always done it this way," "I wont know if my charges are really working," "How can I justify myself when my supervisors dont see a sea of bodies in front of me?"
We are moving into a dark era here in the U.S.. Our president calls for war. The U.S. no longer enjoys the safety of distance from its enemies abroad. As senior executives, we must look at protecting our work force from further disruption - and we can do that. Even an ostrich has to lift its head for air, and look around for its enemies and its charges.
A colleague of mine has said that call centers need to have the callers in a central location for camaraderie and competition to get bigger and better numbers. I disagree. These same people, working from home, could become more productive workers as they become responsible and accountable for their own production.
What else? They will be sick less often, as they will be away from those who may have communicable ailments; safer, as they will be away from those afflicted with workplace rage; more relaxed, as they dont have to spend frustrating hours on the freeways; and less prone to injury in buildings that dont comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A sales manager looks for results. Outside sales people should be out selling, not inside drinking coffee and eating muffins at interminable sales meetings. Thats why there are conference calls.
A client of ours provides his workers with machinery to build parts. They take the equipment home and set it up. The control is from the central headquarters. As parts are completed and ready for shipping, off they go via FedEx or United Parcel Service for quality control and final shipping.
Are you prepared to meet the challenge of protecting your employees by making some strategic changes in your business operations? You can protect your employees by moving them home to work. You can adopt and adapt existing technology to operate your business better. You can achieve the results you want by changing the way your managers supervise their staff.
Videoconferencing can be relied on to reduce the dependency on air transportation. The broadband connectivity that is available makes this an accomplished fact right now. Is it cost effective? Certainly. We watched as millions of pages of documents from the World Trade Center scattered and burned in New York City. Pages that will never be retrieved. Should they have even existed? The government has encouraged us to move to electronic data storage. Are we doing it? Are we using the tools we have?
Soon, we will be watching as employees start suing their employers for the failure to provide a safe work environment. The time has arrived to move employees home to work, and to train managers to supervise for results.
Barry Allen is CEO and visionary of International FieldWorks (www.fieldworks.com), of Glendale, Calif.