• United States

Slimming down with telework

Dec 09, 20022 mins

Dow Chemical sheds a slew of offices by turning its sales force into a virtual team

At Dow Chemical Company, creating a virtual sales force was about more than just sending 500 sales people home to work.

It was about transforming culture, work habits and technology – and making sure a team of traditional workers transitioned into a virtual organization without losing its way or damaging the company’s sales and customer relationships. In short, it was about change management.

By turning to telework, Dow reduced its field support operations from 21 offices in 1990 to eight in 1995. By 1999, it had whittled itself down to one sales administration center in North America. The company’s support departments (administrative, transcription and IT) were moved to the Midland, Mich., headquarters.

The bottom line? Administrative costs have dropped 50% annually (15% of which was attributed to commercial real estate costs.) Productivity increased by 32.5% (10% through decreased absenteeism, 16% by working at home and 6.5% by avoiding the commute.)

At the onset, Dow executives targeted the sales force, reasoning that lost commute time would translate into more time spent with customers. Their home offices were outfitted with computers, printers and fax machines. Workers accustomed to having on-hand administrative and transcription support were trained to use remote services such as remote fax retrieval and dial-in dictation.

Phones were important, as well. In each home office, separate business lines were installed, as was an ISDN network providing workers access to the company phone system. Using local Bell system calling features, Bob Long, Dow’s manager of customer interface, and others programmed “zero-out” and call forwarding options. These let customers speak with a receptionist instead of the sales rep’s voicemail. When the receptionist at Dow sees the incoming call, her caller ID displays the remote worker’s name, so she can answer the call appropriately.

“It’s important to be aggressive, progressive and selective of all the tech that’s out there,” Long says. “It’s the technology that makes this thing work.”

Now flexible work arrangements and alternative work environments have been adopted by other Dow teams. “Going from traditional to virtual office, you can very easily lose sight of the customer. Re-engineering work processes must be focused on customer service,” Long says. “It’s clear that especially for a sales organization, this is a great way to work.”