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Tim Kane Featured

6:33am EDT January 31, 2003
You may have a telework program at your company and not even know it.

"We do an annual state-of-the-workplace study here, and what I can tell most people is that anywhere from 8 percent to 20 percent of your organization is probably teleworking on an ad hoc basis without having a formal program in place," says Tim Kane, founder and president of Kinetic Workplace, a consulting firm that guides organizations through the transformation of their work forces to teleworking arrangements.

He defines a teleworker as someone who works outside the office two or more days a week on a consistent basis.

Kinetic Workplace does most of its work outside of Pittsburgh, primarily for large employers. With a few exceptions, according to Kane, large local companies have not adopted telework in a big way. That's certain to change, he says, as demographic shifts and a shrinking pool of workers push employers to offer teleworking as a recruitment and retention tool.

"It's happening, and employees are demanding it," says Kane. "It's so easy to do that employees are wondering why employers aren't providing it."

Kane was selected last fall by Pittsburgh Magazine and the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project as one of its "40 Under 40," young members of the regional business community who are emerging as its leadership class.

Kane talked with SBN about the new generation of leaders, where he fits into that group and why telework is anything but a fad.

What was your reaction to being selected as one of Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40?

I was honored to be one of the 40 Under 40 group for Pittsburgh. They had a get-together where I met a lot of great, interesting people doing some interesting things.

The one sad thing, and I think we as a group are going to work on this, is that I felt bad because I only knew three or four people on the list. A lot of people were saying we're the 40-under-40, and if we're part of the leadership of Pittsburgh, we ought to try to get together on a quarterly basis or once or twice a year, at least.

Why don't these people know each other better, and why haven't they begun to make more of a collective impact?

I think we're all so busy. Work/life balance is so important, particularly to the 30- to 40-year-old generation, people with young kids today. I think there are more guys my age who are saying that they want to be around for their kids.

You want to balance the amount of time you're on the road traveling with time spent with your family. You start to pare down the list of things you can be affiliated with and you can dedicate your time to.

I think people generally want to get involved and make things better, but you really want to see the results of that. Last November I became the president of the International Telework Council. I probably put in about 15 hours a week on it.

It was a fledgling organization financially. It didn't have a real mission, a real vision. It was confused as to whether it wanted to go to the corporate groups or to the individual teleworkers.

Now I see a return on the investment because it's attractive to a lot of companies. Now, it's viewed as the leading organization in the field.

If you're going to spend 15 hours a week in volunteerism, you're going to try to do something where you can get a return on the investment.

What do you think you can offer that group?

I think I have a pretty good understanding of what motivates businesses to locate in certain areas, how decisions are made in corporate America. Companies want things that will turn into dollars today as quickly as possible.

I think I have a good feel for, given my work in high tech and Kinetic Workplace, where the work force is going. I think I have an understanding of what companies are going to have to do to compete for talent in 2005 or 2006, when the baby boom generation starts to push out of the work force.

Why is there less cohesiveness among the region's younger potential leaders?

In today's business world, you can make things happen a lot faster, and I think people are accustomed to that. Business is moving very fast.

If you don't move at a fast pace, you're going to get swallowed up, and I think it seems like things move more slowly in a bureaucracy or government.

We can take a business, take a product from concept to development to implementation to maturity quickly these days because teams are formed, goals are set, you move forward and you get around obstacles. Trying to move a region, particularly one that has its roots in the turn-of-the-century industrial era, takes more patience.

You say you've found Pittsburgh to be behind when it comes to telework arrangements. Are there signs of change?

I thought last year when the (Fort Pitt Tunnel) closed that it would be the first time that downtown-based companies would say, 'OK, let's really develop formalized programs to get a significant portion of our people (based at home),' and it didn't occur.

There's still a lot of fear, a lot of discomfort around the idea. There are companies that are doing it; PNC has a very robust program, but by far, this is a very telework-reluctant city.

Is the situation likely to change?

It's one of those unstoppable things. We've got 20 million teleworkers in the U.S. right now, and by 2006, it's anticipated to be a third of the U.S. work force, about 50 million people.

You can't fight it. This is the No. 1 preferred perk among IT workers It's consistently in the top three among knowledge-based workers. Two out of three people would change jobs for the ability to telework.

When presented with two jobs having equal pay and equal benefits, one having the ability to telework and the other not, three out of four would take the job that allows them to telework. Today, there's more of an incentive for employers to do it than ever before.

The federal government is facing a major brain drain. Over a third of the federal work force will be eligible for retirement by 2006, and it's believed that 20 percent of them will take it up. Some of them are in the most senior positions.

The private sector mirrors that, but trails by a few years.

Hasn't the economic slowdown changed the picture?

Even though we have a rise of unemployment, as opposed to 1999, the HR departments are still looking at this as a major issue. The other thing is how telework is affecting corporate decision-making and how there are plenty of incentives for companies to offer telework options. How to reach: Kinetic Workplace, www.kineticworkplace.com