ALM Properties, Inc.
Page printed from: Corporate Counsel
Select 'Print' in your browser menu to print this document.
Telecommuting Goes Mainstream
There's no question about it: Everybody's leaving the office. With the explosion of mobile operating systems from Apple Inc., Google Inc., and Microsoft Corporation, the ubiquitous availability of strong Wi-Fi connectivity and sophisticated new security tools, it's easy to grab a laptop (or tablet or smartphone) and hit the road.
According to the 2012 survey from the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center, 38 percent of lawyers have already migrated to laptops as primary computers. And with today's feature-heavy, app-ready iPads and other tablets, you may not even need a laptop to conduct business on the fly.
Most smartphones are so sophisticated that you can download your boarding pass, highlight exhibits, recruit new lawyers, assess jurors, and handle many more legal tasks with apps. Many smartphones can be personal Wi-Fi "hot spots," so you no longer worry about connectivity black holes or ridiculously expensive Internet fees at airports and hotels. Not only can you connect multiple devices from one phone, you can give colleagues permission to jump on your signal.
But wait! There's more! Legal professionals are not just embracing remote computing for business tripssome are turning in office keys or taking home pictures of their dogs and spouses from cubicles. Working remotely is no longer just an option when a child is sick, it's spreading like poison ivy in July. The 2012 National Study of Employers found that 77 percent of companies polled permit or encourage flextime, reported Fortune . Remote work options can benefit the worker and the planetmost obviously by reducing commutes, but also by reducing real estate expenses and maintenance costs of on-site staff. Flexible options can attract top talent, especially for jobs that are difficult to fill, such as top IT roles. That's why many legal employers are exploring everything from "hoteling" (no dedicated workspaces) to home offices. Let's look at a couple of examples.
In 2010 American Express Company's adoption of a remote work policy initially was fueled by a space crunch at its headquarters at Three World Financial Center in downtown Manhattan. The 51-story building houses about 5,000 workers; about 20 percent of them participate in the "BlueWork" program, many spending just a few days each week on-site. About 20 percent of the tower's floors have been converted to share-based space, and eventually the program will go companywide. Currently, the company has 300 properties supporting more than 65,000 employees in 41 countries.
"We're creating a new workplace environment to help us use real estate more efficiently while, at the same time, redefining how we work at American Express," Stephen Squeri, group president, global services, told investors at a semiannual financial community meeting. "Our goals are to increase productivity and engagement across our employee base and to help us attract and retain the best talent." AmEx is also investing in new workplace technology, including global videoconferencing, to increase collaboration and reduce travel costs, he said. (AmEx officials declined to provide metrics about savings or productivity gains.)
AmEx's law department is an enthusiastic participant, says Mark Bisard, who heads its cyber law unit. "My team very much appreciates the flexibility of BlueWork," says Bisard, a member of the board of Law Technology News , a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel . "We can plug and play in any room," and be more mobile. "I need to be in a lot of places at a lot of times, and this allows me to do it."
AmEx won't detail the number of attorneys based in its general counsel office in New York (or other outposts worldwide). But the GCO populates the entire forty-ninth floor, which vibrates with mid-century-style furniture that would be right at home at Mad Men 's Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The color palette favors orange, lime green, and, of course, Pantone 285 (AmEx) blue.
The floor is divided into various areas that offer dramatically different work options. With stunning Manhattan views from perimeter windows, there are rows of workstations separated only by barriers like those that prevent cheating on Jeopardy! Conference spaces range from traditional closed-door rooms to cozy chairs and sofas in open spaces, and even a "conversation pit" created with high-backed sectionals.
Employees negotiate arrangements with their leaders and teams, and generally follow four basic templates:
The "Hub" plan provides an assigned workspace for individuals with daily responsibilities in the office whose role requires a dedicated space. They also can use the collaborative workspaces throughout the floor. The "CLUB" is for those who typically split time between the New York office and other AmEx sitesor work at home at least one day per week. They are assigned a private locker, but choose workspace per diem (individual or collaborative spaces) with guaranteed seating.
The "Home Office" blueprint is for employees who primarily work from home (at least three days a week). Seating is selected as needs dictate. Home workers receive a laptop and a printer/fax/scanner, and a smartphone when appropriate. The "ROAM" plan is primarily for sales staff who make regular visits to a corporate location, but primarily work at client offices or on the road. They, too, choose space as needed.
Other BlueWork options include telecommuting, flexible hours, and job-sharing.
As for its technology, AmEx is a predominantly Microsoft shop. Teams use SharePoint to store/retrieve documents, Live Meeting, and Office Communicator. The Avaya dual-mode softphone system includes features-laden call forwarding. Tech support is available 24/7 via a phone-based help desk, with technicians who can remotely connect to employees' computers. All staff are given a "token" with a dynamic security password so they can access the company's VPN, when necessary.
"We believe that it's less about where employees work here; it's about the role they play in driving results and how work arrangements can best fit their working style and personal needs," says Todd Miller, vice president of general counsel office operations. "In an environment where we have a fixed amount of real estate space, BlueWork provides us with flexibility so that we can continue to provide the necessary level of staff to support the GCO and our business partners."
With the 2012 Summer Olympics kicking off on July 27, Thomson Reuters's leaders realized that their London-based personnel might find themselves in hopeless gridlock. So they decided to beef up the existing flexible work program, says London-based Seamus King, director of technology and IT infrastructure. For the duration of the Olympics and the Paralympic Games, which end on September 9, TR is encouraging employees who may be inconvenienced by the crowds and congestion to consider working from home, says King. TR also expects that staff may want to take vacations or adjust work hours, "depending on the reality of the Games, including start and finish times," he says.
TR's managers predict that about 60 percent of the 5,000 London-based employees (including 598 who work for the legal unit) will work remotely at some point during the summer. Alternatives include working at another TR office, or from home via a secure virtual private network.
Meanwhile, the company is testing systems and infrastructure to verify that they can absorb the bandwidth of additional off-site users. TR has established remote access systems to cover the expected spike in London and in other global hubs, he notes. Thomson Reuters has several data centers, including a major facility in Eagan, Minnesota, where most of its legal technology and regulatory operations are based.
On May 9 TR participated in a London-wide Olympics dry run. "We asked employees to work from the location they expect to use during the games. This helps us with infrastructure and logistics planning, and focuses managers and employees on their plans and needs," says Pete Biggs, a London-based corporate affairs manager. They found that "corporate VPN systems performed well, but some home users discovered issues relating to their home broadband." In response, TR is producing more detailed self-help guides for affected users.
Because TR already has an active remote working policy, it anticipates only minimal additional costs, says King. No special training is scheduled for the London staff, "but we will have additional documentation available online and will provide PC clinics for users to get any issues checked well before the Games."
As for TR's overall policy, "flexible working has always been available for staff, with their manager's approval," says King. TR cites employee work/life balance, productivity, culture, and recruiting as key reasons to support remote work options. "Telecommuting can be an effective recruiting tool, particularly for technology employees who are in high demand, even in the economic downturn," he says.
TR staff are usually issued Lenovo ThinkPad, Dell, and Apple products. Most employees use laptops; during the Olympics, loaners will be available for those in company-critical roles who do not. Many employees get BlackBerrys or iPhones and iPads, but TR does not expect to issue any other devices in preparation for the Olympics. Full hard-disk encryption and secure two-factor authentication are used to protect confidentiality of data when devices are lost.
To facilitate remote workers and visitors, TR has "hoteling" workstations at its major locations, says John Shaughnessy, vice presidentcommunications. It uses Juniper, Nortel, and Cisco VPNs and networks, as well as videoconferencing technologies, such as Skype, Cisco TelePresence, and Life Size.
Rick King, TR's companywide COO for technology, is based at the Eagan campus. Preparing for the upcoming Olympics, he says, is in many ways business as usual.
"Most of us have reached the point where our work is wherever we are," says King (no relation to Seamus). "We're not confined by cubes or office walls, or desktop systemswe work remotely, and mobile devices give us the flexibility to connect and collaborate in ways we couldn't have imagined just a few years ago. This same trend informs the products we're developing for the legal marketplace, and it shapes the tools and infrastructure we've put in place in Eagan, London, and around the world," he adds.
Monica Bay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor in chief of LTN magazine and a member of the California bar.