Nuclear Industry Telework Case Study

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Kathleen Parrish • Mayer probably has no idea what the telecommuting program was worth to Yahoo’s bottom line – she has larger issues to deal with. Hopefully, she’ll do better with them than she did with this one. To offer some perspective, though:

I work in a nuclear engineering office that designs nuclear cores for reloads – two a year, on time, no surprises, no mistakes, in an extremely regulated environment. The majority of our staff currently teleworks 1 day a week on a 4/10 schedule. The only reason we were able to implement a telework pilot program back in 1994 was a strong business case – a perfect storm on business conditions (going to a 4/10 work week and moving 60 miles west to new offices. Most of our staff were faced with 80-100 mile commutes – one way – with a depressed housing market and no relocation assistance). To prevent unacceptable attrition losses, we proposed a telecommuting pilot program, allowing a 6 man volunteer team to telecommute 1 to 2 days a week for 6 months.

Our pilot involved continuous data mining of how time was being spent (changes in interruptions, production time, and budget impacts being key). Fortunately for me, three members of the pilot team created a simple, on-screen, point & click tool to capture and process time usage and boil it down to weekly reports, which I spent most of my weekends analyzing. The data allowed us to quantify the effects of telecommuting on interruptions and production time.

When all the numbers were in, we showed an increase in raw production time of 18%; a decrease in interruptions of 10%; and reduced admin overhead of about 8%. More importantly, we under-ran our contract services budget by $300,000 (1994 dollars), an amount about equal to the gain in production time, because we brought work in house that would normally be contracted out.

We capped our results by saving an additional $5M in fuel costs by fine-tuning our designs to optimize each piece of the fuel cycle and reducing the overall cost of the cores (This was achieved by the added flexibility remote work gave us to work the computer programs 24/7). Approval of the telecommuting program also got our attrition losses under control (long story there), allowing us to proceed with a new fuel contract that reduced our fuel costs an additional $4M a year. All told, an annual savings of $9M/year, not counting inflation. That was 18 years ago.

It doesn’t take full-time telecommuting to make a big difference for most employees. Sometimes one or two days will accomodate work-life balance that if vital for a single parent; a evening college program; aging parents; dialysis. We managed to keep some very high performers we would have lost years ago with a 1 or 2 day a week accommodation.

Yahoo won’t.