Organizational structure is an important question that all companies have to face and find a solution to. In this paper we will get an insight into the company Delta Airlines, which decided to set up a network design system. First of all we will briefly view some facts about Delta Airlines, and then we will focus on the company’s actions, its results and the changes which occurred.
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To begin, Delta Air Lines was founded in 1924, and is now the world’s Number one American airline company. Its headquarters are based in Atlanta, and the company is providing transport services throughout the United States (211 cities in 46 states) and also to worldwide destinations. Delta provides plane transportation to 375 destinations in 66 countries and serves more than 170 million passengers each year. Thus Delta operates more than 1,534 flights per day. The company is also a member of the Skyteam Alliance which includes companies such as Air France-KLM, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Aeromexico and Korean Air.
With more than 75,000 employees worldwide, Delta is remodeling the aviation industry, as the only U.S. airline to offer a full global network. On October 29, 2008, Delta completed its merger with Northwest Airlines to form the world’s largest commercial carrier.
What did the company do about network design?
In the early days of 2000s Delta Airline noticed a change in its employees’ habits. The company had to face an unexpected demand for remote access to corporate e-mail and applications. According to this observation of employee’s expectation, Delta chose to introduce a new working system for its employees, and invested millions of dollars in their network infrastructures to let employees work from home. It is called the Wired Workforce program. These programs were designed to create Internet-savvy employees.
Delta offered to its employees the option of getting a PC, a printer, and unlimited Internet access for $12 per month, and after three years, the employee would be able to own the system. 11,000 employees have signed up for free Internet access, while another 36,000 employees opted for the complete PC package. All employees get a CD-ROM that provided the VPN, public-key infrastructure and Web browser software, needed to securely access Delta’s intranet and Microsoft Outlook Express e-mail systems. Delta’s key software applications, including E-crew, which schedules flight attendants and pilots, and can also be accessed from home.
Delta spent more than $1 million to provide the wired workforce program, and the related equipment to its workers.
For example Elaine Baird is a top Delta Air Lines reservations agent; she handles 120 customer calls during her eight-hour shift. However, she is not working in a call center office, booking ticket after ticket; she is working from a computer desk in the laundry room of her Odessa home.
Recently, call volumes had dropped and Delta Airline was financially suffering, consequently the company had cut reservations agents and shut down reservation centers. Now more agents work from home, and they are taking on customer service tasks which were unimaginable less than a decade ago. But according to the vice-president of reservations “This is entirely voluntary”. “It’s not about closing offices or shrinking our work force. A lot of people approached us. It helps us to retain valuable employees and gives them more opportunity to focus on the job.” Delta Airline also added a link on its Web site for e-mail inquiries. “Agents try to respond to each one within 24 hours, but no later than 48 hours,” said Ellen Torbert, vice president of the renamed customer support and services department.
Home working employees also have the new task of helping with after-hours calls from air cargo customers and update passengers on the status of their lost luggage.
The purpose of this system is to provide employees the opportunity to work during their preferred time of the day and to provide them flexibility, not to get them to work 24 hours a day. People don’t all work from 8am to 5pm; some want to answer their email in the quiet of their homes.
In 2002, Delta also set up an e-learning training program for its employees, and an e-business program. The e-learning program enables pilots, airport customer service staff, ticket agents and other employee groups to receive specialized training according to their job responsibilities.
What are the results?
One of the consequences of this new working organization system is that Delta closed several reservations centers.
Agents working at their homes are more reactive, and more beneficial to the airlines. For example, when big storms force companies to cancel massive numbers of flights, home agents directly reroute stranded travelers. At-home agents work more efficiently and are less likely to change jobs.
Delta’s reservations workers now return about 4,300 e-mail inquiries, and they can chat online with customers on the airline’s Web site. Workers also take care of phone calls that Delta used to send to call centers in India.
The Wired Workforce program has been a success. It helped to improve personal computing and Internet skills of Delta’s workforce, and connect them more easily to their company by providing personal computers, access to Delta’s intranet and unlimited access to the Internet.
The biggest benefit of this program is the improvement of productivity.
In 2001, Delta’s ‘Wired Workforce’ Program was named as one of five finalists for 21st Century Achievement Award.
How did these changes change the way people work or are related to each other?
At first the employees was skeptical about this new idea of working from home. In the year 2000, some of the employees used their computer at home just to “waste time”, playing solitaire or other such activities. The question was, would bringing the PC to people yield more productive and more loyal workers over the long term. For example, some employers have had to fortify security systems to protect work-related email accounts and intranet from non-employees who have access to the company-subsidized PC. They have also had to deal with delays in the delivery of computers, which were sometimes randomly delivered to thousands of workers. Most of the time, employees receive a PC within about two to three weeks after signing up for the ‘wired’ work force program.
Before Delta Air Lines established this program, employees such as pilots and flight attendants (many of whom did not live near Atlanta or the airport where they regularly take off) had to travel to the company’s headquarters to schedule flights, and to consult their planning. Now they can handle all personnel scheduling over a virtual private network.
Employees who work at home now have the possibility to balance their family life and their professional life more easily. They don’t have fixed hours; for example a mother will be able to pick up her children at the end of the school day, or to keep them at home while working. This system allows workers to be more flexible; they avoid losing time and money on transportation, and they can be more relaxed at home and avoid stressful situations. However, the relationships between employees become more complex, and difficult. Delta’s reservation employees stay at home so they don’t see each other and there is almost no real communication or relationship. Their only way to communicate are e-mails or phones calls. Communication with managers is also affected; they don’t see each other face-to-face anymore. Employees form a virtual network.
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Beneficial changes? What new requirements are placed on employees?
I don’t think work has been made more interesting by this change. People continue to do the same thing, but from their home. They don’t have to lose time in transport to go to work in the morning and to go back home in the evening. However, in my opinion, if you don’t have some special requirements (like to be at home at five or whatever else) you are losing a huge part of social life and relationships with your co-workers. I would prefer to have to go to work, to keep myself busy and to catch up with the news. Employees are getting inexpensive computers and internet; it is a good way to get them interested in new technologies and increase their willingness to learn how to use it. This is one of the beneficial changes. Requirements placed on employees are mainly to be more autonomous and independent. Nobody is present to tell them what to do, or force them to work; they are not under pressure, although they still have to do their job, and to achieve their tasks on time. Workers have to be serious about their job; this independence can procure a feeling of freedom.
To conclude, Delta Airlines is not the only company to set up this change in their organizational structure. Ford had the same approach at the same period. This system has been working for both companies and it allowed them to reduce overall costs.
Duffy Marsan Carolyn “Wired workforce plans stress corporate nets” 13 March, 2001
Holstein William J. “Let them have PCs Ford, Delta get wired”U.S. News & World Report. Washington: Feb 14, 2000. Vol. 128, Iss. 6; pg. 43
Huettel Steve, “More airline agents work from home and do more customer service” Times, Sunday, July 5, 2009
Konrad Rachel, ” Is a wired work force worth it?” Tuesday, June 19 2001 http://www.zdnetasia.com/news/hardware/printfriendly.htm?AT=21215882-39000006c
“Delta Air Lines Reports December Quarter and Calendar Year Results”
PR Newswire. New York: Jan 18, 2001. pg. 1
“Delta’s ‘Wired Workforce’ Program Named as One of Five Finalists for 21st Century Achievement Award” PR Newswire. New York: May 31, 2001. pg. 1
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