Technology Today, September/October 1997

Telecommuting to and from Winsted


On a quiet corner, with a lovely view of Winsted Lake, stands a turn of the century home with hand laid steps and oak floors. Resident inside this restful scene is some of the newest technology available from TDS TELECOM, Winsted.

ISDN and the home office have arrived in Winsted. Denise Hertzog, an employee of Cargill since 1984, recently began doing her regular job out of her home on First Street South.

ISDN technology made this possible by transforming some regular telephone lines in her home to digital lines that can handle voice and data transmissions simultaneously and at speeds five to 10 times faster than analog lines.

Why telecommute? In Denise's situation, she is saving two hours a day by not commuting. She is also saving money on gas and vehicle upkeep and a work wardrobe. Cargill has a more satisfied, less stressed, more productive employee for whom they do not need to provide expensive office space. In addition, they have fewer employees on the road causing air pollution.

Denise has the perfect type of job for telecommuting. The majority of her work is routine, with specific deadlines for each task. She is fully trained and can handle her work independently. Coworkers who need to interface with her during the day can easily do so via electronic mail or telephone.

As a statistical analytical assistant for Cargill, Denise updates multitudes of commodities supply and demand reports each day by downloading data off the Internet and various government bulletin boards. Once her reports are up-to-date, she loads them onto Cargill's server, thus making them available for use by the dozens of analysts who not only make important predictions and decisions for Cargill, but also provide information and analysis to business customers. Downloading large quantities of data requires high speed transmission capabilities in order to make the process efficient. The ISDN technology available in Winsted makes this possible.

In addition to preparing important information for Cargill analysts, Denise is also a data base administrator for an information retrieval system that is used by Cargill and some international analysis groups to monitor commodities supply, demand, prices and options. By working out of her home office, she is actually now more accessible to data base users than before, because she has fewer distractions and interruptions.

Denise is excited about being allowed to participate in the six-month telecommuting pilot program at Cargill. She first read about telecommuting about three years ago and thought it sounded like a neat idea. Now that she has a busy family life and a beautiful home in Winsted, she thinks it's a very effective solution to keeping her life balanced between an interesting and challenging job and her personal life.

A major change that Denise has experienced is much less stress on the job and at home. She does not need to deal with traffic and weather concerns during a commute. She has more hours in the day to spend on productive activities. She does not have the frequent interruptions that she had in the office environment.

Her office environment was like any other, in that coworkers not only stop by for help or to discuss work issues, they also tend to socialize from time to time. She has found that many people, who found it so easy to rely on her for help when they had the know-how themselves, are now operating more independently. So the reduction in interruptions has not only reduced her stress level, it has also increased her productivity and that of others.

Another phenomenon Denise has observed is that because she has signed a "work-at-home" agreement with Cargill, and they are trusting her to fulfill her responsibilities, she is extremely conscientious and self-disciplined. Her company's trust in her and their willingness to be flexible have increased her loyalty and commitment. A downside to telecommuting, however, has been the isolation from other people. It has been challenging for Denise to regain a level of social activity that can be important to emotional well-being.

How will Cargill decide whether their pilot telecommuting program has been successful? They are looking at new costs associated with the set up and maintenance of the home offices, and comparing these costs to the historical costs of office space, equipment, supplies and commuting.

They are looking at their employees' productivity levels in relation to the hours for which they're being paid. They are evaluating the impact on communications among the work groups. Consideration is being given to the overall satisfaction level of the telecommuting employees and the attitudes and support levels of the supervisors and employees that continue to work in the Cargill office environment.

One thing Cargill learned through setting up this pilot telecommuting program is that advanced technological capabilities are available in Winsted. Denise is the only employee who does not live in the twin cities area who is able to work at home because the telecommunications technology is here. That makes us in Winsted proud to know that we are once again on the leading edge.

Oh, by the way, in case you're wondering - Denise does not wear bunny slippers and pajamas while she's working. She may be barefoot from time to time, though.

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