What Was—and Still Is

by Kim Houlne on March 9, 2015

It’s funny how a piece of paper, decades after the fact, can bring it all home.

In business, some things change. Like goals and initiatives. And other things don’t. Like the reason why you started your company in the first place.

A case in point: In preparing for a panel at the upcoming Women’s Business Symposia, I found a forgotten piece of paper in my office.

Dated 1998, it lists the corporate mission statement, a few business goals and a handful of initiatives for Working Solutions, the company I’d founded two years earlier for home-based contact center agents.

Before 8-to-5 became 24/7

Though common today, work-at-home was a brave new world back then.

Basically, Working Solutions took the U.S. government’s 1938 definition of the workday and made it into a virtual workplace for independent contractors. This is before 8-to-5 became 24/7.

Almost 20 years ago, the company’s goals were simpler:

  • Earn $60,000 in revenue the first year in business.
  • Contract with at least two “home agents.”
  • Work with at least five clients on a regular basis.

The results, in order, were: Achieved it. Did it. Continue to do it—plus more.

Now, I have to admit that I smiled when reviewing the initiatives. By today’s standards, they’re small in scope.

The thinking behind them, however, still applies:

  • Tell as many people as possible about the business.
  • Join as many hot links as possible—HotBot, Yahoo and more.
  • Join two local professional business associations to network.

Today, we’re still telling people about the company. Leveraging the “hot links” of social media. And reaching out, this time speaking at the women’s symposia on March 10 at the Bush Institute.

Virtual proved viable

And what about Working Solutions’ original mission? Become widely known for home-based agents being a viable business alternative.

Well, virtual proved viable. These days, we call them work-anywhere agents™. They’re part of a registered network that’s 110,000+ strong and operating in all 50 states.

The one-page idea for Working Solutions helped pioneer homeshoring and the remote workforce industry, now supporting tens of millions of workers nationwide and generating billions of dollars in revenue.

It’s funny how a piece of paper, decades after the fact, can bring it all home. I plan to share it at the symposia with guest speaker, Lori Greiner, my fellow panelists, Angelle Albright and Carmen Montalvan, and attendees.

And instead of filing it away afterward, I plan to frame and display the page at our offices. It’s good to remember your roots—and let others see them as well. Keeps things in perspective, after all these years.

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Working Solutions (WSOL) welcomes being recognized by FlexJobs as #13 of its Top 100 Companies to Watch for Telecommuting and Remote Jobs in 2015. Turns out the number 13 can be lucky.

We’re in good company with name brands such as Amazon, American Express, General Electric, 3M, McKesson, Salesforce and Xerox—all chosen after FlexJobs analyzed more than 30,000 companies in its database.

And we subscribe to what FlexJobs founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell said: “The organizations on this list are among those leading the charge to show that remote work options are a part of successful 21st-century workplaces.”

Her words resonate and align with the business philosophy we’ve practiced since founding Working Solutions. And we know they ring true in serving our clients and their customers for almost 20 years.

It’s a belief that’s lived out every day through our national network of independent agents who pride themselves on delivering great technical support, service and customer care.

Our Work Anywhere Agent™ model affords them the flexibility not found in the traditional workplace. It gives them the freedom to decide when, where and for whom to work. It enables them to prioritize their time to earn an income, raise a family, care for elderly parents or go to school.

Time and again, agents tell us what it means to live, work and succeed on their own terms:

  • “I can’t stress to you as a single mother the importance of this company, its vision and goals. I have been in the hospitality industry for 32 years now and these last 10 years with WSOL has been the best. You have allowed me to create time, and more importantly, an income to be a successful person and mother.”
  • “I researched many companies trying to find a job I could work at home and still be able to take of my family. Kudos to you and your peers that have made this company what it is.”

I’m inspired when reading agent comments. They go to the heart of why we started this company. They reflect opportunity for agents, their passion for the work and belief in what we do.

Today, the modern, mobile workforce continues to grow. FlexJobs experienced a 26% increase in postings of telecommuting or work-from-home jobs in the past year. Add to that, industry analyst Forrester reported that 63 million American workers will be telecommuting by 2016.

Those are big numbers. More important, they’re even bigger validation of the value a 21st-century workplace can bring—anywhere, for anyone.

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Call It Whatever You Want—It Works Anywhere™

In our industry, people use a lot of names to describe what we offer—virtual contact center services. It’s defined in terms of work at home, at home, remote or on demand.

All are valid. They, however, fall short of the bigger idea—the Work Anywhere workforce.

Working anywhere isn’t confined by traditional brick-and-mortar operations, which have their place. Rather, it’s delivered by a smart, mobile and independent workforce, conducting business from safe and secure locations.

Decades in the making, this workforce today is expanding for several reasons.

Work is fractionalized: It’s being divided into by-the-job projects and parceled off to talent-on-tap. Think of it as a Lego® world, where work gets done in pieces by ever-ready professionals—and then snapped back together.

Technology is virtualized: Omni-technology is redefining the workplace, elevating it from the cube to the cloud. Virtual platforms liberate production, with jobs being done anywhere, by anyone qualified. Hi tech is now I tech.

Talent is globalized: Said another way, labor is no longer local or locked in. Businesses hire workers wherever they find the talent. Call it E-economics 101—the new world of free trade built on evergreen skills.

Nearly 20 years ago, Working Solutions pioneered the concept of virtual contact center services. We tapped into the independent talent of educated, industry-focused agents to serve FORTUNE 500 companies and their customers. The concept has proved sound, secure and productive. Today, more and more organizations use it.

As the business-cape continues to shift, Working Solutions welcomes the changes for:

• People seeking freedom to work from anywhere, for anyone—embracing the openness and opportunities.
• Companies wanting to be more responsive—elevating sales, customer care and technical experiences.
• Businesses expecting real results in real time—delivering on the front line and in the corner office.

All of this possible—and already proven—with the Work Anywhere workforce.

 

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Years ago, Fast Company did an article entitled, “The Brand Called You.” It centers on personalizing your brand to become a sought-after free agent.  If ever there was a time to become “You, Inc.,” it’s now—five years after the Great Recession and still counting. To prosper, you should monetize your at-home skills in five ways.  

1.       Prepare now—for the home-field advantage

  •  The allure of offshore is fading. Economic realities are bringing business to home shore.
  • With this back-in-the-U.S.A. mindset, how well are you positioned for the home-field advantage? 
  •  No one knows how much of this incoming work will go to big business or to free-agent talent.
  •   To compete, you need to set your priorities, prepare for doing business virtually and find funding:
    1. Figure out what you do best and what companies will buy it.
    2. Get a land line/professional-grade technology. You need them to properly network.
    3. Take advantage of work-at-home tax breaks. Check into small business loans.

 2.       Get motivated—commit to continuing education

  • You can never be too rich, too thin or too skilled.
  •  If you aren’t committed to continuing education in our wired world, your skills will suffer.
  •  Jobs today read like three positions in one: technologist, industry expert and business developer.
  •  So draw a line: Note the required skills you have on top. On the bottom, put what you’re missing.
  • That’s now your line of demarcation: Fill in what you need to sharpen your skills and compete.
  • Set a timeline, complete with links to required education, and then move on it—with conviction.

 3.       Expand your markets—find work and be found

  • You are probably reading this column in Texas. While Texas is big, it’s only one market.
  • Go out on the job boards/sites and search for your skills nationwide… worldwide.
  •   How many of the jobs are tagged “work remote or virtual”?
  • Odds are maybe 25% or more. You’ve just expanded your circle of potential income.
  • Create your own Microsoft Virtual Earth to pinpoint future work based on market needs.
  •  Your website, LinkedIn/Facebook profiles should showcase your skills in 4 seconds or less—the average time a recruiter spends looking at a resume.

 4.       Be resourceful—create multiple revenue streams

  • When you got laid off, you said: “Never again will I depend on one place to earn a living.”
  • With no corporate machine behind you, now is the time to be resourceful and self motivated… You need to know how to prioritize work and meet deadlines with minimal supervision.
  • Assess your skills—social and technical—to become a creative problem solver.
  • Build a revenue engine with them to generate quick-turn and long-term work.
  • Quick-turn skills are event-driven. Merchandise them that way, aligned with short-term demand.
  • Long-term skills are project-driven— work lasting months/years. Sell your skills in industry trades/groups.
  • Focus your skills and price accordingly for both kinds of work and pay—so you’ll never again say…   

 5.       Recalculate your skills—often

  • We have GPS in our cars to not get lost. Our skills need GPS, too.
  • One way to stay current is by joining—and presenting—at professional organizations.
  •  Think of it this way: Your skills are in demand if you’re being asked to speak—and people show up.
  • Also keep your bio on your desktop. Write your introduction for 2015. What’s missing to still be relevant?
  • Now double-back to your education timeline to fill in the needed skills.
  • Always ask: Would I spend my time and money to hear this person—that’s you— talk?
  •  If not, then recalculate.

 

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Education comes at a price. And while earning a degree is hard enough, graduating in debt and with no job prospects is even tougher.

If that’s the case, you’re already living the headlines:

That’s grim news—even with the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2014 survey expecting employers to hire about 7.8% more graduates than the Class of 2013.

We live in tough times with degrees from the school of hard knocks, where more than 1.6 million graduates with four-year degrees soon will be competing for jobs.  They’ll join the ranks of earlier graduates now unemployed or underemployed, still reeling from the Great Recession. Add to their numbers well-educated, but sidelined professionals who would welcome work that uses their skills.

Virtual Jobs Take Workaday Skills

Like other jobs, virtual work requires hard skills and soft skills—the qualities that all employers want.

Most of all, it takes workaday skills. The fundamentals that apply to any company or industry, such as:

  • Can you listen?
  • Can you connect?
  • Can you continue to learn?
  •  Can you master the technology?
  • Can you bring new ideas to the table?
  • Do you work well with others—and alone?
  • Do you know when to step up—or back away?

At the end of day, can you put them all together, perform the job and serve clients and their customers well?

If you can, the virtual workplace could use your talents.

Given this economic woe, how do you give so much talent a home? One way is with virtual workforces that move with the times and morph to the marketplace.

Consider this Option—Working Virtual

Consultancies, websites and surveys are devoted to workforces that are remote, mobile or virtual. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics went through more than 500 telecommuting studies, reporting on the pros and cons of working this way for companies.

The advantages include:

  • More opportunities for the underemployed and unemployed—citing “18 million Americans with some college education aren’t working.
  • Businesses options to scale up and down—stating “having access to flexible at-home workforce allows call centers, airlines, and other to add and reduce staff quickly as needed.”

While the benefits are many, there are concerns, such as:

  • Remote work is not for everyone—believing workers “should be comfortable with technology or arrangements should be made for remote tech support.”
  • Keeping work secure—although “90% of those charged with security in large organizations feel that home-based workers” are not a security concern.

Working from home—whether as a professional agent or a corporate telecommuter—has come of age. Independent workers make up 30% of the American workforce today. And that number will continue to increase, where an estimated 63 million Americans will telecommute by 2016.

Becoming a home-based agent is a proven work option, but do your due diligence. Research any company well. How thorough is its training? How does it pay and reward people? Know what you’re getting into beforehand, and decide if the culture and chemistry are a good fit. It’s worthwhile to check out what employees and agents are saying about a place, such as on Glassdoor.

Tapping into Talent and Technology—Virtually

A virtual workforce draws its strength from diversity. For example, Working Solutions serves clients and their customers in 32 languages across multiple time zones—all done from inside the United States.

Like any workplace, agents’ backgrounds vary. They include college graduates, military spouses, retirees, and people whose careers changed and their skills remained sharp. Some work full time and others part time. It all depends on their needs and client requirements.

Regardless of demands and demographics, there’s a lot of talent—young, older and in between— outside of corporate America these days. It’s vital and sought after, but being used in more creative and productive ways, enabled by cloud technology. But the cloud means nothing if you don’t have the right people, processes and methodologies behind it.

We’ve invested in the talent and technology for nearly 20 years as a pioneer in the virtual contact center and service industry, transforming the way the world sells and supports clients and their customers.  From an industry standpoint, we see sophisticated and well-connected consumers reshaping the customer experience in their own images—throughout the entire business cycle.

Better-informed consumers require a savvier, more tuned-in and educated workforce to serve their needs—from buying goods to ensuring delivery of services to resolving customer issues. Raising the stakes elevates the conservation about how and where commerce is conducted and business gets done.

Connecting the crowd to the cloud brings new fluidity to the workplace and the marketplace. The dynamics redefine how organizations and workers interact—and companies and consumers engage.

Against this backdrop, a more mobile and increasingly independent workforce moves, evermore in demand and expanding across generations of talent. Perhaps it’s a place for you.

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