• March 1, 2006
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

NYC Rides With Telecommuting

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The New York City transit union went on strike for the first time in more than two decades last December. The strike shut down New York's subway system for three days during the busy holiday shopping season, posing a threat to local businesses. Published reports estimated that the strike cost the city's overall economy roughly $1 billion, but it could have been worse, especially for corporate America. Thanks largely to telecommuting capabilities and contingency planning, knowledge workers were able to work from home. For example, Metropolitan Telecommunications (MetTel), a local exchange carrier serving 40 states, incorporated on-demand contact center functionality powered by UCN into its telecommuting efforts during the strike. MetTel normally does not use home-based agents, but the carrier did allow halfof its roughly 50 CSRs to work from home. Agents downloaded UCN's inContact myAgent application onto their home PCs and logged in. Once the system recognized the agents, calls were routed to their home telephone numbers. Managerial capabilities were not lost, as the system can monitor and record reps, and enables managers to remotely view performance reports from a Web-based supervisor interface. "We were seriously affected by 9/11, as we were not allowed to have employees come into our offices for quite some time," says Sue Samuelson, a MetTel spokeswoman. "Subsequently, we established more extensive contingency plans and arranged for additional key personnel to be able to work from home during an emergency or [outside of standard] hours. MetTel has its own VPN, and other employees [can connect] through that or access their office PC and company databases using other secure software." The last time New Yorkers faced a transit union strike was in April 1980. It lasted 11 days and forced people to walk, skate, and bike their way to their offices. A quarter century ago, however, telecommuting was more novelty than widespread concept. "Given that [telecommuting] is much more commonplace today than it even was five years ago or 10 years ago, it's much easier for businesses to be flexible and to keep operating," says Joe Wilcox, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research. However, if companies believe such an ad hoc effort will sustain in the event of a more long-term crisis, they are wrong, according to a recent report from research firm Basex. Most companies are only set up for what effectively could be an extended snowstorm, warns Jonathan Spira, CEO and chief analyst of Basex. During the strike, Basex conducted a survey of roughly 100 New York businesses. The report, "Strengthening Corporate Pandemic Preparedness and Response," reveals that about 90 percent of respondents were set up to function for no more than a few days. "[Businesses] need to plan out the infrastructure well in advance of the need for a sudden increase in the number of telecommuters," Spira told CRM magazine. Spira suggests in the report that organizations create and declare an emergency collaborative response. This should include information backup and availability, a remote work assessment, a list of mission-critical work, and an understanding of what work must be done and what is needed to do it. "The transit strike should serve as a wake-up call, not only for New Yorkers but for everyone," said David Goldes, president of Basex, in an email newsletter. "Managers need to ask themselves if they could continue operating in this fashion (emergency mode) for three months or longer."
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