Everyone Works at Home at Chorus, Part One

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Rick Boyd used to spend $500 a month on gas and tolls commuting 48 miles a day between his home in Westchester County, N.Y., and his office in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. Now Boyd doesn't commute any more because his company, Chorus, which provides clinical, practice management and financial software for health care providers, has gone virtual.

Chorus closed its Hasbrouck Heights headquarters in early June and its other office, in Stafford, Texas (outside of Houston), in early July. Now all of the company's 35 employees and full-time consultants work at home, and for the most part, they love it.

Boyd, who is Chorus's CIO, says the company decided to close its offices to save money and spare employees the hassle and rising cost of commuting and because it had the necessary technology to support such a move. President and CEO A.J. Schreiber says Chorus can continue to serve customers while simultaneously saving $400,000 a year simply by closing its 15,000 square feet of office space. Sure, breaking leases and telecom contracts is costing the company money, but the long-term savings far outweigh those short-term costs, says Schreiber. "We wouldn't have done this if it would have had a negative impact on our ability to serve customers," he adds.

In making the bold move to close its offices and go virtual, Chorus demonstrates the positive bottom-line results that stem from applying workplace flexibility as a business strategy, says Cali Williams Yost, president and founder of consultancy Work+Life Fit. "Flexibility is a strategy for managing your business," she says. "It helps you recruit and retain talent and manage resources like real estate. There are more and more companies realizing you don't need to be in the same place every minute of every day."

Chorus's transformation into a virtual company staffed with telecommuters hasn't been flawless, but none of the hurdles the company has encountered at this point have proven insurmountable. Through research, planning and some trial-and-error, the company addressed many of the cultural challenges associated with telecommuting and managing virtual workforces.

Chorus established work policies designed to maintain employee productivity and customer service levels. The company is using technology to make workloads more transparent for managers, to transfer knowledge among staff, provide training and to enable them to collaborate. The IT department, whose members also works at home, also figured out efficient ways to provide remote tech support. Here, Boyd and other Chorus employees share the challenges they've experienced and the lessons they've learned thus far in the course of their company's transformation.

The first lesson is that you need the right infrastructure to support a virtual, telecommuting set of employees.

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