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Collaboration Case Study: AT&T - Part II

Last week, we started our examination of AT&T's rather successful telework initiative and how it has improved how knowledge workers at that organization collaborate.  We continue now looking at how the initiative has been supported by upper management and how AT&T connects its people to each other.

Today, at AT&T, Hossein Eslambolchi, president of AT&T Labs, is the champion behind telework.  According to Eslambolchi, “AT&T has – through telework -- redefined the company from one that is facilities based to one that is based on information technology.  This is a key factor for success in the knowledge economy.”

Although there has inherently been a kind of second-class citizenship for the remote worker, that is changing too.  Looking ahead, teleworkers will more access to significantly greater functionality as AT&T rolls out Voice-over-IP technology to these groups first.

But what about the 10% that does not participate in the telework program?  Studies conducted by AT&T show that three issues occupy knowledge worker mindshare:

  • 68% cite reduced visibility in the office
  • 68% cite a need to interact with people “live”
  • 57% cite “management style” (referencing managers who are resistant to telework)

AT&T relies on a series of informal tools to connect its remote knowledge workers to one another.  InfoCenter, a portal, has basic information such as organization charts and personnel details.  Most knowledge workers rely on six degrees of separation, according to Joseph Roitz, AT&T's director of telework, and they can use search tools and organizational Web pages to find people with a particular skill or knowledgebase.

There are expert systems in place throughout the company, but these exist in isolation.  AT&T’s greatest challenge in this area is finding ways to uncover tacit knowledge.  “It’s a rapidly changing world,” notes Roitz, “and frequently the greatest problem – for teleworkers and those in the office – is how to get your hands around the stuff that’s buried in people’s heads.”  Over time, as technology improves, more systems will be in place to address this as access to tacit knowledge is

AT&T received ca. $180 million in operational benefits from telework in 2003.  The savings primarily accrue from two areas: productivity ($150 million) and real estate ($30 million).  AT&T’s own studies have shown that their teleworkers are more productive by one hour than non-teleworkers.  In addition, Roitz notes, there are many soft benefits, including recruiting and retention benefits, job satisfaction and morale benefits, and business continuity benefits.

For companies first starting off on the path to a mobile workforce, Roitz has three pieces of advice.

1. Keep in mind that technology is paramount; if the technology doesn’t work and support applications, whether it’s the intranet or connectivity, the initiative is doomed

2. Corporate culture is of paramount importance.  It’s necessary to create a culture that embraces telework, or at the very least allows it to exist.  Telework is subject to the network effect, where each incremental addition adds value.

3. Telework is a business strategy, not a perk.  It’s not a project or a program, it’s an entirely different way of doing business that is more effective, efficient, resilient, and flexible.

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