David Stratton, Vice President of Payer Strategy and Operations at Englewood, CO-based Catholic Health Initiatives, oversees a team of about 3,500 employees—70 report to him directly—negotiating payments with managed care companies and health care providers at some 100 hospitals across the U.S. Spending about 90 percent of his time on the road, he works out of multiple office locations and often on airplanes, thanks to free WiFi.
The one day a week he’s not traveling, he works from his Michigan home. It feels like pure luxury. “Traveling is not what it used to be, and not what it’s cracked up to be,” says Stratton, who looks forward to the day when his team is fully built out and he can reduce his travel to 40-50% and spend the rest of his work week telecommuting.
Stratton’s private home-office suite is equipped with high-speed Internet and a large-screen monitor to accommodate his visual limitations. He gets up early, dons his sweats, pours a cup of coffee and gets to work, connecting securely to his office network. “Working at home is terrific. It’s just nice being around your family when you travel so much for work. You can enjoy their company between calls and take a walk for a break. Not only are you more productive, but it’s a healthier lifestyle.”
In 2010, 13.4 million Americans worked at home at least one day per week, an increase of over 4 million people, or 35 percent, in just a decade, largely thanks to advances in technology and communications, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since then, the trend is only intensifying as it gets easier still: Cloud-based services such as Google Docs and MS 365 facilitate remote access and easy sharing of documents; video chats can help compensate for the lack of face-to-face meetings, and the ubiquitous smart phone means that it’s easier than ever to conduct business on the go.
For companies, the rationale for allowing a work-at-home option is compelling, with noticeable gains in recruiting, productivity and retention. Take the recently published research by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom, who studied a group of Shanghai call-center employees at CTrip, China’s largest travel agency. They were given the option to work at home for nine months, vs. a control group who stayed in the office. The study found that working at home led to a 13 percent increase in performance; work satisfaction improved and the attrition rate fell by 50 percent. The company also estimated it saw productivity grow by 25 percent and saved $2,000 per employee.
Chris Sugai, President of Niner Bikes, is already sold on the idea of allowing flexible work locations. About half of the employees of this high-end manufacturer of mountain bikes work from home, including Sugai. Currently, he and his family are trying out life in Las Vegas, where he works a 12-hour day from his home office – with breaks to hang out with his wife and daughter or take a midday bike ride. He visits corporate headquarters about every other month for a week at a time.
“Great companies are made up of great people, and with emerging technology, I just saw that you have the ability not to have everybody move to a central location to function properly,” says Sugai. “It opens the door to hiring from states and countries from which I couldn’t do so before, and I just believe highly in a quality-of-life balance. It allows for a happier and more productive team member.”
Working at home does require more effort to stay in touch and manage the team. “You have to work harder to have focused communications, and when you do have meetings you are prepared to get something done,” says Sugai.
The work-at-home option is particularly attractive for working parents. Christina Dieckmeyer, director of marketing at Sales Benchmark Index, a sales and marketing consultancy with a Cumming, Ga. mailing address, likes that she can easily flex her schedule from her Indianapolis home. Every morning at 6:30, she hops onto the computer for a half hour to answer emails before getting her kids ready for the day. After dropping her 7-year-old at school and her 3-year-old at her mother’s house, she returns home to work. She typically takes a break in the afternoon when her daughter gets out of school, then does some more work in the evening after her husband comes home. Once a week, the marketing team has a conference call to update each other and catch up on campaigns. “I use my smart phone and my iPad a lot, especially if I’m on the go,” she says.
Of course, the separation between work and private life is tricky for people who do much of their work at home. If employees aren’t careful, that 24-7 accessibility can lead to burnout. “Occasionally, on a holiday weekend, my boss will mandate it’s a work-free weekend,” says Dieckmeyer.
Isolation can be a problem, too, she says. “I’m lucky that one member of my marketing team also is based in Indianapolis. She comes to my house or I go to her condo a couple of times a month.”