Telecommuting is becoming an increasingly popular option at major banking companies.
Citicorp, Chase Manhattan Corp., and First Union Corp. are among those allowing employees to work from home. Technological advancements make it possible, and cost savings make it good business.
"Banks are well suited for telecommuting for many reasons," said Gil Gordon, whose Monmouth Junction, N.J.-based Gil Gordon Associates is a telecommuting consultant. "They have a fairly high proportion of jobs that are information-oriented, and wherever you can move information you can move people."
One of the recent converts to the concept, Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Corp., last month began a pilot telecommuting program. The goal is to make the practice a part of the company's culture by next year.
A big reason for the initiative is a desire to lower real estate expenses associated with its growing work force, according to NationsBank officials. Fostering more productive work environments and reducing the stress associated with long commutes were also factors, officials added.
"We have a real space challenge here in Charlotte. We can't build buildings fast enough," said Liz Frigault, a vice president in NationsBank's strategic technology group, who is leading the project. "This is one way to deal with the space issue."
Ms. Frigault said many employees have informal arrangements with managers that allow them to work from home at times. But NationsBank has big plans for alternative work arrangements: It expects one day to have employees of its 24-hour call centers working from home.
Many issues must be dealt with before the company can roll out the program on a wide scale, said Ms. Frigault. Security concerns, worker's compensation, and equipment costs are among the topics Ms. Frigault's team is addressing during the six-month pilot program.
They also are formulating guidelines for identifying and approving appropriate candidates for telecommuting.
The plan is to present findings to NationsBank's senior management before the end of the year, and they expect a formal program to be implemented shortly thereafter.
"We have lots of demand from the banking groups for this," Ms. Frigault said. "We probably are going to see this develop fairly quickly. There is a real push to get this into production."
Ms. Frigault said her group is not identifying specific job titles as telecommuting prospects, but some areas of the company lend themselves more readily to remote work sites.
The collections group in the dealer financing area is one example, she said. Because employees in that area work late hours placing calls across time zones, they are good candidates for telecommuting.
Computer programmers also fill the bill, as do workers who spend a lot of time reading and writing reports.
At First Union, also based in Charlotte, a telecommuting program that began three years ago is starting to pick up steam. Jeff Austin, workplace strategist for First Union, said some 50 people have signed up for the program and about 10 new people do so each month. An additional 6,000 workers have linked home computers to the company's information systems so they can work from home, which they do on an informal basis.
"There is a lot of interest in being able to work at home," he said.
Management has been slower to warm to the idea, Mr. Austin said. He said the majority of managers still are reluctant to embrace the concept and would prefer to have their employees within sight.
"It's still pretty new, especially in a conservative business like banking," he added.