Virtually yours

Continuing the (un)employment-oriented rant, I want to move from hard reality to soft possibility.  In the process, I’m going to weave in bits of my resumé.  Let’s see how well the job bots can handle it.

My last position with Nokia was mostly remote-operated for a year or so.  I was partially responsible for the success of around 400 logistics claims handlers around the world.  That meant making sure our intranet application was properly configured, new users accounted for and mid-tier support staff notified of infrastructure issues.  All of this was conducted over internet and phone.  In person, I met maybe 20 or 25 of the regular claims handlers.

Much of this sort of work is intuitive.  I also had a service-level agreement that guided response times and prioritization and easily eighty-percent of the day-to-day actions involved adding or modifying accounts or invalidating claims that were created in error.  In addition, there were larger projects involving business analysis and process redefinition that kept things interesting.

One aspect that required real diligence was learning how to be sensitive to attributes of other cultures, especially without faces in front of me.  I committed a few gaffes when I started off in my first global role.  Some of the learning experience is unavoidable trial-and-error, although a class in virtual team management later enabled me to make quantum leaps in intercultural communications.  Prior membership on a corporate diversity council didn’t hurt either.

What I really want to focus on is the telecommuting element.  Seven years ago I had proposed to a former manager that I could work that way to a large extent.  He and I were part of a very tiny team and separated by several states in the US, yet we got things done.  But he was not yet ready for such an advent and despite the rapid technological advances of the late 1990s neither were many companies.

Flash forward to 2008.  I was much more effective working from my home office.  I am on a fiber-based network (Verizon’s FIOS) that is faster than what we had on campus.  I didn’t have to waste any valuable time in automobile traffic.  It was also easier to conduct early morning teleconferences with Europe and late night meetings with Asia.  Like many telecommuters, I typically worked harder and put in more hours at home than I did in conventional environments.

I don’t want to gripe much about that position being eliminated (mistakenly in my opinion) right now.  Maybe later when it’s not so much sour grapes.  But what I will bemoan is the state of telecommuting in general.  So far it has not quite fulfilled expectations, despite some successes.  This is made very clear to me as I apply for positions that very well could be telecommuted but instead require a certain physical location.  An inability to relocate is really hurting my chances.

In this sinking economy it behooves company leaders to put their operations under a microscope and look for savings based on infrastructure and business practice changes… rather than wholesale disposal of human beings they will ultimately want to rehire later.  I have personally witnessed so many easily-solved operational inefficiences that it makes me ill now to think about it.  I daresay many are perpetuated by inertial “the way we have always done it” philosophies and now is the time to closely examine those old anchors.

I used to joke that I could do my former job from Antarctica as long as I had a good internet connection, but there’s a lot of sober truth in that silliness.  I suspect there are a good many jobs that could be run in similar fashion that have not yet been so enabled.  I call on more industry and government leaders to start realizing the benefits of telecommuting and what it can do for a struggling economy… the sooner the better.


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