HOUSTON – Who says work can only effectively be conducted at the credit union branch? Since early 2000, Houston Postal Credit Union through its telecommuting program has been slowly building a successful network of “virtual” offices at staffers’ homes. HPCU President/CEO Vladimir Stark says several factors combined led to creating the telecommuting program. “We wanted to hire individuals who were not necessarily in close proximity to the credit union and we were weighing the advantage of adding a new branch versus looking for another avenue and based on our calculations the telecommuting program would be of greater benefit to both the credit union and the employees,” said Stark. Once the decision was made HPCU turned to the Houston-Galveston Area Telework Resource Center for guidance. The Center offers a comprehensive package of assistance services ranging from development of telecommuting policies/agreements and implementation kits to program identification/design and training sessions for management and employees. According to Stark, one of the secrets to designing a good telecommuting program lies in the ability to organize specific jobs so they can be done without constant interaction. Success then depends on choosing the right personality type to do the job. The “ideal” teleworker is well-organized, enjoys working independently and requires minimal supervision. He adds that successful teleworkers are tech-savvy, have a high degree of job skill knowledge and strong time management skills. “Employees selected for the program were surveyed to determine if their personality and skill sets were suited for working at home,” said Stark. “And while the typical concern about this type of program is that home-based employees may be distracted with household duties or children, we’ve found the opposite is true and these employees prove to be more productive and focused on their tasks.” HPCU Executive Assistant Lupe Mendoza adds that setting clear goals and expectations from the start helps keep the program running smoothly. “To be successful the program is supported by top management and the telecommuting supervisors have to readjust their management style to develop a better fit with the employees as well as their habits,” said Mendoza. “So telecommuters have the flexibility to do their job but still feel they can connect with their supervisor.” To foster that connection with other employees and the credit union as a whole, telecommuters participate in the regular weekly staff meetings in addition to their own quarterly meetings where they have an opportunity to share ideas and discuss any issues or challenges. “In addition to demonstrating our commitment, by encouraging employees to share their experiences and thoughts, it helps us all stay focused and headed in the same direction,” said Mendoza. Out of Houston Postal CU’s total 53 employees the telecommuting workforce consists of 10 full-time staffers. Program start-up costs primarily involved purchasing a server, data processing/dial-in equipment and the communication software. With the sophisticated system telecommuters can even hear pages from headquarters over their home phone. The credit union also provided telecommuters a lockable desk/armoire and fax machine. So far Stark says the feedback has been only positive. “It not only has helped our production levels but it is one of those benefits that helps employees strike a work/life balance,” said Stark. “Not having to deal with the stress of a daily commute alone is a great timesaver for them.” Stark say another positive unexpected benefit for the credit union and its members is that telecommuting helps in disaster recovery. “We’ve had occasions where our main call center is down but the home worker is online and ready to help members,” said Stark. This past spring HPCU participated in an “ecommute” program business roundtable here to discuss its experience related to offering employees telework options and the potential for expanding the practice. The ecommute program is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that specifically looks at the role of incentives, including potential air emissions trading programs for increasing business participation in telework programs. HPCU’s input will be combined with other local businesses in a final report that the EPA is scheduled to present to Congress this fall. -mdigiovanni@cutimes.com