A Changing Workforce

It is estimated that between 30 and 40 million people in the US are now either telecommuters or home-based employees. Sales and service personnel, working in primarily non-supervised situations, also constitute a large percentage of our workforce whether traditionally employed or working as subcontractors.

The growing trend toward building an alternative workplace, including various combinations of non-traditional work settings, practices and locations, is accompanied by some unique management challenges for SH&E excellence. Safety professionals require skills to help prevent accidents and incidents in these situations; alternative employees require personal management skills to help them take responsibility for SH&E performance.

Going Home

Several large U.S. companies that are pioneers in this arena, including AT&T, IBM, PeopleSoft, American Express, Lucent Technologies and Merrill Lynch, have achieved tangible and intangible benefits from their initiatives in recent years. Pharmaceutical companies for example, employ thousands of sales and detail people who travel alone to physicians' offices, pharmacies, supermarkets and the like. Machinery and parts manufacturers, computer hardware and software manufacturers, as well as many other companies that supply to an intermediary manufacturer or the end-user, have scores of service reps, mechanics and service personnel who work and travel in unfamiliar environments posing an ongoing challenge for their safety, health and well-being. Today, paperwork and reports can be generated from one's laptop or home PC, hotel or other mobile office as easily as from any central workplace.

Airports, train stations and hotels have mobile workstations with Internet access, supplies and overnight delivery services to aide "on-the-road" personnel. As more companies adopt these practices, the number of employees working in non-traditional settings will continue to accelerate.

Many people have downsized from more expensive office environments to less expensive and more comfortable home office environments. As the electronic age has evolved, the need to be in or near a central office location has become less necessary. Many people have eliminated their urban or suburban home and have nested in and are working from their once vacation home in the country or near a body of water given their new abilities to work from home.

A Win-Win

Key organizational objectives to increase productivity and profitability, especially with global competition and downturns in the economy, have facilitated this trend. Working from home for many serves dual purposes. First, it offers the business advantage of minimizing the need for expensive office space and related overhead. Second, it benefits the individuals who spend less time and money commuting, allowing for more time to be spent on producing results and revenues, and, when not traveling, with their families. Technology greatly facilitates these alternative arrangements.

Companies are also seeking new ways to attract and keep talented, motivated employees who require alternative sites. A nationwide travel agency based in Philadelphia uses many people living in North Dakota who make supplemental income working from home making travel arrangements for their clients.

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