Olympic College telework study doesn’t fly for Boeing

POULSBO — Teleworking’s effectiveness will be tested in Kitsap County soon but the chance that Boeing will be the test subject has flown the coop.

Teleworking, working remotely using fiber optic technology, will be the focus of trials at an experimental work space at the Olympic College Poulsbo branch campus when it opens in January 2004. The program will collect data on the effectiveness of home offices and remote work environments. The technology is available to OC through its connection to the Kitsap Public Utilities District fiber optic backbone.

The program was recommended by the July Kitsap Public Utilities District Telework Study, which was authored by the University of Washington Center for Internet Studies and Mike Bookey’s firm Pachena Light.

Earlier this year, Boeing had expressed interest in being the first company to participate in that program. The company had been recommended for the study because an estimated 500 Boeing employees live in Kitsap County whose jobs are such that they could work from a remote environment.

At the Nov. 5 Poulsbo City Council meeting, telework advocate Councilman Ed Stern read a letter from Boeing Virtual Workplace Program Manager Rick Muttart on behalf of the corporation. The letter stated that the company appreciated the work by members of the Telework Study committee but that it did not feel participating in the pilot program at this point would be the best decision.

“The 500 or so employees referenced in the study work at a variety of Puget Sound locations,” the Oct. 21 letter stated. “This fact alone does not constitute enough of a critical mass to allow us to shed office space, thus generate savings to offset a cash outlay to Kitsap County for hotel space, conductivity or a Virtual Workplace Proving Lab ... We surveyed 500 or so employees who reside west of Puget Sound. Our response rate was low and frankly did not demonstrate much interest.”

In a statement explaining Boeing’s response to Kitsap County Commissioners, Stern said that the company’s difficulty with participating lay with its current Virtual Workforce Program. This “value proposition” program aims at reducing the company’s real estate footprint.

“Displaced populations of ‘knowledge’ workers then are given lap-tops and other equipment to conduct their jobs remotely, regularly reporting to shared office space to do ‘data dumps’ and other activities,” Stern explained. “Because the employee population of Boeing workers commuting from the West Sound are not associated with one specific facility, but are dispersed geographically throughout Snohomish, King and Pierce County areas, there is no ‘value proposition’ to Boeing in applying ‘virtual workforce’ concepts as currently practiced, in addressing West Sound commuters.”

Stern said he has already met with representatives from OC and plans are in the works on where to go from here. He proposed that there are many other companies and jurisdictions in the Seattle area that have large numbers of workers in Kitsap County that may be interested in taking part in the Telework trial run. Stern said, for example, King County has hundreds of “knowledge workers” who commute from the West Sound.

And though the aerospace company has bowed out of working with OC on this venture, OC President David Mitchell said the talks were not a complete loss. He said Boeing has expressed thanks for the work of the committee and seems interested in staying in contact with the project.

“Olympic College stands responsive, flexible and eager to try to meet training and education needs that Boeing may have in this region,” Mitchell said in a statement to members of the committee. “Anyway, the college’s and the region’s position with Boeing has, if anything, been enhanced by this effort.”

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