THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2009 Big “I” National News Pinching Pennies: Working from Home Agencies offering a work-from-home option report increased savings and productivity. Allowing employees to work from home requires trust, an investment in technology and an overhaul of the typical office workspace. Many independent agencies that have made the transition say the extra effort has been worth it, resulting in happier employees, increased productivity and significant cost savings. Like most large U.S. cities, metropolitan Houston is plagued by traffic problems, but employees at Focus Insurance and Financial Services are avoiding the gridlock altogether by taking advantage of the agency’s generous work-from-home policy. Mickie Comiskey, chief operating officer at Focus Insurance, says allowing her employees to work from home has countless benefits. “We have happier employees who are saving money on gas and work clothes, productivity is much better and our smaller agency space has allowed us to save money on rent and equipment costs,” Comiskey says. “We have also increased employee retention and are able to recruit talent from areas further from the office.” Another benefit of employees working from home was not apparent to Comiskey until Hurricane Ike hit Houston in the summer of 2008. Although the agency was closed during the storm, employees outside of the affected area were able to keep working from their homes. Comiskey views this as an advantage for any agency that occasionally closes its office due to bad weather. Many agencies have looked to Focus Insurance for advice on implementing a work-from-home model, but most ultimately shied away because of the initial cost and a fear of losing control of employees. Comiskey says going paperless makes the transition much easier, as well as having employees who have proven they can work unsupervised. “We don’t give employees the opportunity to work from home until they’ve been with us for a year,” Comiskey says. “After that, we actually have more control over productivity when they work from home because we can track the work product and workflow much better remotely.” Editor’s note: This article is the third in a series entitled “Pinching Pennies,” which explores cost- saving measures for independent agencies. For more cost-saving tips, read “Recession-Proof Your Agency” in this month’s IA magazine.