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TMCNet:  Call center closing: 1-800-flowers.com employees will work from home; no jobs lost

[June 17, 2009]

Call center closing: 1-800-flowers.com employees will work from home; no jobs lost

Jun 17, 2009 (Alamogordo Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Officials with 1-800-flowers.com's call center in Alamogordo said Tuesday it plans to close its facility on North Florida Avenue on Aug. 16, but no jobs will be lost.


Company officials said employees are transitioning to what is called a "home agent network." "It's a transitioning, not a closure," said Mike Espiritu, executive director of the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce. "They're moving from a brick-and-mortar operation to a technological operation. No one is losing their job. Employees have the option of working from their home." "What we're really looking to do is support our associates and team members in Alamogordo through these tough financial and economic times to give them a better opportunity to save some money while still performing their job duties," said Lance Lipkus, vice president of customer service for 1-800-flowers.com.

The Alamogordo call center employs about 140 people and as many as 1,000 both full-time and part-time staffers, Lipkus said during busy holiday seasons such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Christmas.

The Alamogordo facility is considered the company's largest call center. In November and December last year, the call center took 60,000 orders.

"Nothing is changing from the employees' perspective," Lipkus said. "Pay, benefits, hours everything is identical. Instead of getting in a car and going to work, they'll get out of bed and walk into a different room and start taking calls." Lipkus said employees will log on to a computer system to report for work, similar to an Internet chat program.

"We use AOL Instant Messenger. It's instantaneous," he said. "An employee's supervisor today will be their supervisor when the transition takes place." Darren Lyons, the Alamogordo call center's director of operations, said similar transitions have taken place in Ardmore, Okla., and Westerville, Ohio.

"We've successfully done this before and we expect this transition to be even smoother," he said. Lyons added that productivity increased in Westerville's location after the transition.

Lipkus said there are "huge advantages" to employees who choose to stay with the company and work from home.

"There is quality of life, economics of traveling to and from work and other advantages that may come to them from a work-at-home environment," he said.

"People will be able to save on daycare expenses and they'll save money they'd normally spend on gas getting to and from work," Espiritu said.

Espiritu also said employees also may benefit during tax time because they will be working from home.

"There could be some tax benefits because their home also will be a business," he said.

Lipkus said employees will have better tools with which to work.

"Our goal is to provide each employee with an opportunity to work in that environment and that means software, hardware, support for setup and providing them with computers if they don't have one, to perform their job duties." Lipkus said he spent much of Tuesday briefing staffers about the company's work-from-home plan.

"We've gotten a pretty positive response from employees," he said. "Their biggest concern is about getting set up (for working from home) because it's a different kind of technology, which we have tech support to do, and how they will manage their business." As for the 1-800-flowers.com building on North Florida Avenue, Lipkus said company officials are trying to determine the best course of action to take.

"I would prefer a bowling alley, but I don't think I can sell that one to corporate," Lipkus said. "We don't know how we will disposition it. A sale will probably be in order. We will talk with the local community and see how they want us to disposition the building. I would prefer another call center company because it would be a turnkey. We could leave the equipment as long as it's compatible. That would be nice for us." Espiritu said the company has paid back, in full, all of the incentive funds it received from the gross receipts tax when it first began operating in Alamogordo in 2002.

"That is important to note," Espiritu said. "They've paid back their incentive funds and don't owe anyone a thing." Contact Michael Johnson at mjohnson@alamogordonews.com.

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