Everyone Works at Home at Chorus, Part Three

In this story, the third of three parts, managers and staff at a small software company adjust to telecommuting and share their keys to success. Part One focused on the network infrastructure. Part Two covered work at home policies.

Thu, July 17, 2008

CIO — In early June, Chorus, a provider of clinical, practice management and financial software for healthcare providers, closed its headquarters in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. A month later, the company closed its other office, in Stafford, Texas (outside of Houston). Now all of the company's employees work at home.

Chorus's decision to close its offices and have its employees telecommute was driven by a need to cut costs and spare its employees the rising expense and hassle of commuting. (The company's CIO, Rick Boyd, drove 48 miles a day between his home in Westchester County, N.Y., and his office in Hasbrouck Heights.) The decision has meant adjustments for all of the company's 35 employees and full-time consultants.

Chorus's transformation into a virtual company is expected to save about $400,000 a year on costs like office space. The transition to become a company staffed with telecommuters hasn't been flawless, but none of the technical and cultural hurdles the company has encountered at this point have proven insurmountable.

Chorus established work policies designed to maintain employee productivity and customer service levels. It is using technology to make workloads more transparent for managers, to transfer knowledge among staff, provide training and to bring employees together. The IT department, whose members also work from home, only visiting a data center in New Jersey when necessary, also figured out efficient ways to provide remote tech support.

In this article, Boyd and other Chorus employees share the challenges they've experienced adjusting to telecommuting and the lessons they've learned thus far.

Adjustments to Telecommuting Include Periodic Meetups, Daily Conference Calls

Although most employees were delighted to start telecommuting, adjusting to the new lifestyle took more time for employees in Marvin Luz's client services department. The vice president of client services says his staff began e-mailing him to ask if they were ever going to go back into the office two weeks after they all began telecommuting. They missed the social contact, he says.

"You have to understand the dynamics of a person who is in customer service," says Luz. "They're very social creatures, and being in an office fills that social need we have."

Luz decided to bring his staff back into the Houston office two days week. "We did that for three weeks," he says. Then his group went down to one day in the office a week for a few weeks. Now they're all back to working from home five days a week, and they all feel much more comfortable with the arrangement having gone through that transition period, says Luz.

Luz believes his staff had trouble adjusting to the new lifestyle because they couldn't get into a routine at home. Once they settled into a rhythm, the change became much easier. (For information on the skills telecommuters need to develop to effectively work remotely, see, Telecommuters Need to Develop Special Skills.) Luz plans to organize get-togethers for his group every quarter so that they can meet socially. CEO A.J. Schreiber is also planning quarterly, in-person outings for New Jersey and Texas staffers so that employees can maintain personal connections.

Luz notes that if he were to go through this transition again, he wouldn't have his staff go "cold turkey" from cubicle life at first. He would have started with a transition period.

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