Ark. IT workers get more than 'office with a window'

Competition for a capable and competent work force is tough in Little Rock,

Ark., especially for the government.

Employment is up nationwide. Acxiom Corp., a world leader in information

services, is based in central Arkansas. So is Alltel Corp., a leading provider

of enterprise networks and wireless communications. Competition with private

companies for workers is driving the Telecommuting Pilot Project for the

State of Arkansas' Department of Information Systems.

Telecommuting, or teleworking, gives employees the flexibility to work

part- or full-time from home. Advances in information technology are removing

the geographical restrictions built into the old method of hiring workers.

Telecommuting allows agencies to search the entire state for an ideal employee.

Only a few other states have instituted telecommuting programs for government

employees. The Telework Collaborative, a team of government entities from

five states — Oregon's Office of Energy, Washington State University, California's

Department of Personnel Administration, Arizona's Department of Administration

and the Texas State Energy Conservation Office — is working toward educating

and motivating employees and employers to adopt telecommuting programs.

In Arkansas, the approach is different. Because the Department of Information

Systems has a firm technology base in place, it was chosen to develop a

pilot telecommuting program. DIS stands to gain the most if the pilot is

successful — the ability to attract highly skilled information workers to

state government.

A Little Bit More

Today's information workers want more than just an office with a window.

They are looking for career opportunities that will provide them with a

better quality of life. They are looking for some control over their work

schedule. Today's IT workers are looking for ways to spend worthwhile time

with their families, whether it's through flextime or telecommuting.

Because DIS had a successful flextime program already in place, the

next logical move was to offer telecommuting as an alternative work arrangement.

Most of the department's employees live in the central Arkansas area,

and many spend one to two hours on the road every day. About 10 percent

of the agency's work force applied for the telecommuting project. One applicant

to the program said, "I've lived in L.A., I've lived in Dallas. I didn't

move to Arkansas to live in the city. This is a great opportunity."

DIS managers are supportive of the program. They have worked with individual

applicants to develop agreements that will benefit DIS and the employee.

Some managers will have to learn new skills. The lessons that are learned

by them and their telecommuting employees will position DIS to assist other

Arkansas state agencies with similar programs.

Questions are already coming in to the department for information on

how other state agencies can implement their own telecommuting programs.

Arkansas will benefit from telecommuting as well. The program will allow

state agencies to employ people who live in rural areas, which will promote

economic development in those areas.

Imagine this scenario: A person who lives in the Arkansas delta graduates

from college with a degree in information technology. This person is incredibly

gifted, but because of family obligations, he or she can't move to Little

Rock or Fayetteville, where most high-tech jobs are based. However, with

a sound telecommuting program in place, that person could be offered a job

in state government.

It's a win-win-win situation for the employee, the government and Arkansas.

—Rubow is telecommuting project manager of the Arkansas Department of Information

Systems.

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