When you live in Colville, Okanogan or even Pullman, Wash., good job opportunities can be few and far between. Oddly, at the same time, employers in urban areas often grumble about having too limited a pool of trained workers and high employee turnover.
That’s just the nature of living in a small town or locating in an urban area. But it may not be that way much longer.
WSU’s Telework Project is laying the groundwork to help merge and solve both of these problems. In short, when the state’s current limping economy snaps back to life, small rural communities that have worked with the Telework Project may find they are prime targets for employment growth. In fact, it’s already beginning to happen.
Telework, sometimes referred to as telecommuting, is the use of electronic, computer and communication devices allowing people to work from home or a remote facility away from the traditional office one, two or possibly five days a week.
Over the past 13 years, the Telework Project has assisted scores of urban companies establish telework programs. Now, the Telework Project is partnering with communities and corporations to develop corresponding programs in areas statewide.
“This is the best of both worlds,” said Monica Babine, a rural telework specialist with WSU’s Telework Project, based out of Olympia. “It’s a win-win program that provides solutions for employers trying to reduce costs, increase the employment pool and find alternative solutions for disaster management. Plus it creates jobs in high-unemployment areas.“
Companies in urban areas, like Seattle, are seriously considering establishing backup locations and rural telework sites. These sites provide a remote location to which they can back up their data and reroute calls in case of a disaster,” Babine said.
However, cost savings is still the biggest motivator attracting companies to rural telework programs. And the Telework Project staff is working with communities and companies to deliver real-world, bottom-line results, complete with statistics. Successful strategiesMapping out successful telework programs is nothing new for this staff. Since 1989, the Telework Project has been working with corporations and government agencies to research and develop telework programs throughout Washington and the United States.
Initially, the Telework Project wanted to motivate employers to encourage car pooling and telecommuting, thereby reducing fuel consumption and urban air pollution. Today, however, the state is recognizing telework as an effective tool for economic development and employment, particularly in rural areas.
In the decade prior to 9/11 and the financial/management meltdown of companies — like Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and Tyco — state and national economies were flourishing. During that period, WSU’s telework specialists focused on establishing urban corporate programs in metropolitan areas — especially the Puget Sound region. Participating companies included such names as Active Voice, AirTouch Cellular, CH2M Hill, City of Redmond, ConneXt, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, Hewlett-Packard Company, Holland America Line Westours Inc., Seattle Housing Authority, Qwest, Washington Dental Service and Washington Mutual.
Research resulting from these programs revealed that telework programs were not only successful in reducing fuel consumption, but also in allowing companies to attract and retain qualified employees, increase employee productivity, save facilities space and increase employee job satisfaction.
“When WSU first got involved in the Telework Project nobody was doing it. It was incredibly innovative,” said Dee Christensen, manager of Rural Telework Project. “By 2000, telework programs had become fairly institutionalized in the business world. So, we began looking for the next logical step, which was using the advancements in