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Enterprise shifts to work-at-home employees.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

Enterprise Rent-A-Car earlier this month closed its call center in downtown Eugene, and the center's employees now work out of their homes, company officials said Friday.

The employees receive the same pay and benefits as when they worked at the center, spokeswoman Lisa Martini said. Wages start at $11.10, with opportunities to make up to $13.10 an hour, plus a monthly bonus of $450, she said.

It's part of a broader move by the St. Louis-based company to boost retention, recruit from a broader geographic area and offer employees better work-life balance by giving employees the chance to work at home.

As recently as last year, 250 employees worked at the Eugene center and 100 employees worked from their homes. Now the company has 235 home agents in Oregon. Martini didn't provide a breakdown of how many of those agents are in Lane County.

The company's Oregon work force dropped slightly when Enterprise expanded its call center recruiting to other states, she said.

Besides its more than 600 agents working at home in Oregon, Illinois and Missouri, Enterprise has begun recruiting home agents in Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina, Martini said. The company is in its slowest season now and hiring will pick up again in the spring, she added.

Enterprise opened the 50,000-square-foot call center at 175 W. Broadway in early 2008. Its lease expires in the spring, Martini said.

The building's broker, Tim Campbell, and Jack Roberts, executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership economic development agency, "were just getting flooded with inquiries" about the building immediately after Enterprise let it be known it was leaving, Campbell said.

"They're all in the call center, high-tech industry," he said. "This building is known west of the Mississippi of being one of the premier buildings for hi-tech and call centers because we have six lines of fiber coming directly into the building."

Campbell said he hopes to have a new tenant lined up by the time Enterprise's lease expires.

Enterprise is part of the growing trend of using at-home workers to handle customer service.

Online retailer, which uses home agents to help Amazon and Kindle customers, last month began recruiting in the Eugene, Salem and Corvallis areas to fill 200 at-home positions.

The positions are temporary, with the possibility of converting to permanent positions after six months, spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said.

Starting pay is $11 an hour. More information is available at

The jobs are ideal for "college students, stay-at-home parents, military spouses, wounded warriors and others who either cannot or choose not to work outside the home," Cheeseman said.

Call center veteran Jack Heacock, senior vice president of The Telework Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said call centers in health care, government services, financial services and other industries starting using home-based workers "once they got over the idea, 'How do I know they're working? How can I trust them?' "

Heacock said he built his career constructing and operating call centers, and more than a decade ago he developed the financial rationale for using home agents. Since then, he has helped numerous call centers shift to a home-based work force.

Heacock said call centers use the same programs to measure productivity with their at-home agents as they do in a bricks-and-mortar center.

At-home workers in the U.S. also compete favorably with the cheaper labor at call centers overseas, Heacock said.

"When you do the detailed analysis ... and you compare U.S.-based call center agents working full-time from home compared with overseas agents who get paid less, you find out ... the U.S. workers cost the company less than the overseas agents," he said. "You also find there's a lot less turnover with work-at-home than there is overseas."

Not all call centers are jumping on the work-at-home bandwagon, however.

Symantec, a California software and Internet security company, employs 1,170 workers at its Springfield customer service center, and Royal Caribbean recently announced it is hiring for 140 positions and plans to reach 900 employees at its Springfield facility in the next few years.

"I don't think (at-home work) will replace the more centralized call center, but I think it could end up being a new addition or expansion of that," said Roberts, of the Lane Metro Partnership.

The transition from Enterprise's physical call center in Eugene to a virtual one happened gradually, Martini said.

"As we offered work-from-home as an option, more and more existing in-house employees took us up on it," she said. "As a result, we no longer have the need for the large facility and the space."
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 13, 2012
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