Telecommuting is taking off.
Bank of America, Citigroup, Capital One and American Express-all forerunners in embracing "flexible work solutions"-say an increasing number of employees are opting to work from home, helping the companies reduce their real estate expenses. They also say the option has become a crucial tool they use to attract, retain and motivate employees.
BofA's program, My Work, saves an estimated $5,500 per enrolled employee every year-or $110 million annually-says Dan Boutross, senior vice president in BofA's corporate workplace planning unit. Within the next few years BofA reportedly aims to double the nearly 20,000 employees it has enrolled globally, boosting participation from 7 percent to 14 percent of its 283,000 staff. Boutross wouldn't discuss any benchmarks, but says the bank is testing My Work at its call centers.
Overall BofA employees in the program work remotely 60 percent of the time, mostly from home. Boutross and his peers at other companies say the biggest savings comes from real estate. Flex workers are typically required to give up their offices or workstations. When they come in, they work in communal areas or plug laptops into mobile workstations on a first-come, first-served basis. This has allowed BofA to terminate leases and sublease extra space it no longer uses.
Adopters say departments such as sales, marketing, benefits and public relations are a good fit for telework. TowerGroup's Dennis Moroney recommends more banks "homesource" their call center operations, because at $18 to $21 per hour, it's competitive with outsourcing rates in offshore hubs like the Philippines. He says one of the top five credit-card issuers has more than 2,000 collections people working from home.
Citi, which has more than 11,500 employees enrolled in flexible/alternative work programs globally, says it has seen projects yield savings from $3,700 per participant. The program also enabled the company to offer alternatives to employees affected by site closures in recent years, says Bonni Hendrix, global head of Citi's alternative work strategies.
Such "flexible rightsizing," as Kathie Lingle, executive director for the Association of Work-Life Progress calls it, is becoming more popular. "Companies, especially since the recession, are realizing they are not in the real estate business," Lingle says. "It costs $4,000 to $7,000 per year to light, heat and pay rent for a single cubicle workspace. It's much cheaper for companies to have employees that telework."
Bank executives say wide adoption of mobile and broadband technology has made work at home more easily accomplished, and management is now less leery. "It's in the DNA of the culture of the company," says Boutross. "Executives realize they're really not in the office that often; there's no longer any resistance."
At Capital One, "there are no hard and fast rules" regarding work location, says Vicki Mirandah, senior director in human resources.
"What I'm held accountable for delivering are business results. Whether I get that done working from home 80 percent of the time, or onsite, doesn't matter."
With its flex programs-which also include four-day workweeks and job sharing-employees typically arrange with their managers to work some days in the office, and some days out, whether that's at home or elsewhere. Capital One touts this flexibility in its recruiting.
"The Gen Xers, Ys and Millennials expect these benefits," Mirandah says.
Jim Rottman, a vice president of global human resources at American Express, says that internal surveys have found that workers who work flexible schedules and hours "are more engaged and have a higher intent to stay" with the company.
Amex benefits manager Susan Pandolf, who typically works from her home on Long Island two days a week, says she loves saving the "hour and a half of commute time" to downtown Manhattan.
"It's been a blessing to be able to both gain those work hours and reduce the everyday stress and grind of that commute," she says. "I can also concentrate better at home on particular projects."
She is feeling more fulfilled personally too. Pandolf does volunteer work with cat rescue, a passion she says she couldn't otherwise fulfill as easily during the week.