Recruiting from the Middle of Nowhere: Part II

Mar 11, 2009

Forward Thinking Companies Take the Lead; Others Take Notice

In last month’s Part One of Recruiting from the Middle of Nowhere, I discussed how you can transition from an in-house employee, to virtual one located anywhere, working for an employer located anywhere, and still remain a very viable part of the team. This month, I will highlight some of the advantages not only for the employee, but for the company, and the environment as well.

By the end of Part One you could see the benefits of augmenting your recruiting staff with virtual recruiters or other employees…so what does virtual staff offer on a larger scale? A growing number of forward-thinking companies are embracing virtual employees for a host of positions, not only for temporary needs, but on a full time basis. Many have either implemented remote based employment programs, or are piloting plans to do so. Seminars and webinars are touting programs about remote employee management, including the latest tele-technologies and metrics. Given that virtual employees can be even more productive than their on-site peers, and that a bi-costal career dilemma faced by a dual career family can now be mitigated by technology, now may be the time for your company to explore ‘virtually’ all your options! Consider adding recruiters not only from the middle of nowhere, but also consider having recruiters search out candidates to fill your other positions from anywhere—even the middle of nowhere.

From a real estate and facilities perspective, management can factor in capital savings for offices, cubicles, desks, chairs, computers, phones, and related ancillary expenses. This amounts to significant cost savings for companies that re-task viable in-house roles to virtual ones, and is causing companies to rethink their space and overhead requirements as they enter the age of the ‘talent economy’.

In addition, from a facilities vantage point, right-sizing corporate campuses in balance with a virtual workforce provides a significant cost advantage.

‘There are two ways to think about real estate, according to John Vivadelli, president and CEO of AgilQuest: abundance and scarcity. “The mindset of abundance says that the organization should provide enough assets for any possible peak-usage load.” This mentality has gotten many organizations into trouble because it leads them to procure too much real estate—real estate that cannot be sustained through market peaks and valleys.’

“Organizations with the mindset of scarcity treat every asset as expensive and valuable,” says Vivadelli. “The organization bases cost accounting on actual use rather than predetermined allocations and constantly evaluates and decides the best mix of people, facility and technology assets required to produce the best ROI.

The array of technologies available to companies and teleworkers is now at the point where virtual meetings are commonplace for participants on a global scale, with little attention paid to the virtual aspect. Indeed, companies like AT&T, Nortel, and Sun are leading the way with these technologies. In a future Recruiting from the Middle of Nowhere article, I’ll go into more depth about that, but for now let’s look at a few of the remarkable technologies available for virtual work.

Sun CIO Bill Vass reports that its virtual employees use Sun Ray, a diskless ultra-thin client computer that runs off an employee’s corporate badge.

Sun Rays are diskless, operating-system-less laptop-like devices that can be used with any type of monitor, keyboard or mouse. When a user inserts his corporate ID badge into the Sun Ray, the device communicates to Sun Ray servers at headquarters. Those servers manage all the data and applications, including VoIP soft phones, and simply deliver the GUI to the remote user. The badge contains a small Java chip that handles authentication and encryption.” The result is a mobile workforce that is far more secure, and easier to support and administer than traditional laptop-wielders. The Sun Rays cost just $200 apiece and require the same amount of technical support as a typical TV, meaning zero, Vass says.”

“We save $15 million a year in administrative costs alone,” Vass says, adding that the Sun Rays, which use only 11 watts of power, also save the company $2.8 million in power costs. The company garners another $6.5 million a year by not having to refresh its desktops. “Plus, it’s a tremendous leap in security,” he says. Remote workers can’t become infected with worms or viruses and pass them onto the corporate network, because the Sun Rays have no operating system to infiltrate, he says.

As many as 17,000 of Sun’s 33,000 employees work virtually in some capacity, and because any employee can work on any Sun Ray, cubicles at headquarters and other sites are virtual, as well, divvied up on a first-come, first-served basis. “It’s a lot like parking – if you get in early, you get your favorite space. If not, you get what’s left,” Vass says. (Even Sun President Jonathan Schwartz has no permanent office space.)

The setup lets Sun designate 1.5 people per office, a move that saves $68.9 million a year in real estate costs, Vass says. In fact, Sun’s data also shows that teleworkers on average work 3 hours more per day and give back 60% of their commute time to Sun.

Nortel’s CIO Albert Hitchcock concurs: “On average, 40% of our offices are unoccupied, largely because of this telework technology and the flexibility we’re giving our employees,” Hitchcock says. So he says Nortel plans to revamp offices so that they revolve around shared spaces and conference rooms, with private cubicles assigned in a hoteling fashion.

“When they get together, teleworkers are looking to collaborate in shared spaces. So why have all these empty cubicles? We’re working closely with our real estate organization to further consolidate space,” he says.

Nortel also plans to continue using wireless technologies to achieve its virtual goals. Already a big Wi-Fi proponent, Nortel has installed more than 1,000 wireless LAN access points within its corporate buildings so employees can work anywhere on a Nortel site without losing network connectivity. Now it’s investing in WiMAX 802.16 and Code Division Multiple Access Release A, both of which are designed to provide broadband-level wireless access.

“In the very near future, we’ll have a constantly connected broadband world, and clearly, we want to take advantage of that from an overall employee mobility and productivity standpoint,” Hitchcock says.

Leave a Smaller Footprint

Virtual work produces a three-pronged green benefit. Given last year’s surge in fuel prices and a long term forecast for more to come, virtual work arrangements can give considerable relief to employee’s monthly fuel bills. Virtual work not only saves money for the employee, but a critical mass of remote workers can cut corporate energy consumption significantly as well. Recent articles suggest that companies as well as governmental agencies consider letting employees either work virtually or flex their hours to help mitigate rush hour congestion, which conserves fuel. In fact, respected transport consultant John Cox says “forget about beefing up public transport because the most promising way to save the planet is a high-speed broadband network.” In an article published in The Australian, Cox said “telecommunications offers the best prospects for reducing urban congestion and cutting family fuel costs.” One needn’t go to Australia for facts on the subject however; just Google ‘telecommute AND fuel costs’ and you will pull up tens of thousands of articles on the subject in less than a second. You may reach your own conclusions from the material you find there.

As Your Company Goes Somewhere…Use Staff from Virtually Anywhere’

Put simply, most organizations now have the ability to harness extraordinary talent in an ordinary way. Just give them the opportunity to work virtually. No cube, office, or related overhead. If your candidate can’t sell their house due to a troubled local market, you can still employ his/her talent. You company can hire the best candidate for your must-fill position without a spouse leaving their career, without pulling kids out of school, and without paying for a move across the country. You leave gas in the tank, the bottom line larger, workers happier, and the environment a little cleaner.

FacilitiesNet / Building Operations Management. February 2005. Steve Hargis and Mia Jacobsen.

Network World. April 25, 2005. Joanne Cummings Masters of the virtual world – Financially strapped NW200 vendors find cost-cutting nirvana with large-scale telework deployments.

FacilitiesNet / Building Operations Management. February 2005. Steve Hargis and Mia Jacobsen.

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