Telework at At&T: Strategy and Systems Thinking

5 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008

See all articles by Andrea Larson

Andrea Larson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Octovio Avila

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


This is a minicase, one of 10 in a set of short cases written to illustrate the business benefits companies realize through adopting sustainable business strategies. This minicase discusses AT&T's adoption of telework before it was commonly done as an example of implementing sustainable business practices.




AT&T was an early adopter of the now well-accepted telework option. Yet even in 2007 the value of telework is underappreciated as a sustainability strategy that makes positive contributions to a company's bottom line simultaneously with benefits to environmental and community health. AT&T's pioneering decision in 1989 to allow a small number of employees to telework, the company's ongoing promotion of the program, and the program's productive use by employees were the products of a combination of “intrapreneurial” elements within the company. By the early 2000s, the annual business benefits of the program had grown to more than $ 180 million. In addition to substantial financial benefits telework at AT&T provided a range of employee and environmental benefits. Furthermore, as they cope with weather-related disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, which hit the coast of Louisiana in 2005, the business community may find operating and strategic advantages of engaging in a well-conceived telework policy.

History of Telework

“Teleworking” is defined as performing work at any location other than the conventional work location. Work goes to the worker rather than the worker going to work in the traditional sense. “Telecommuting,” a more familiar and related term, is that portion of telework in which work is conducted from home so as to avoid a daily trip to and from work. Desktop and laptop computers, wireless technology, pagers, and advanced voicemail systems are among the technological innovations that enable telework.

The International Telework Association and Council (ITAC) cited 1972 as the first significant date in the history of telework. In that year Jack Nilles, a researcher at the University of Southern California, examined the telecommunications–transportation trade-off of teleworking that he experienced as a consulting rocket scientist in the U.S. Air Force Space Program in the early 1960s. As a result of his subsequent influential research, publications and other professional activities, he became known as “the Father of Telecommuting/Telework.”

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Keywords: Innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainable business, sustainability, triple bottom line, natural environment, environmental, ecology, ecological, strategy, implementation, financial returns

Suggested Citation

Larson, Andrea and Avila, Octovio, Telework at At&T: Strategy and Systems Thinking. Darden Case No. UVA-ENT-0091, Available at SSRN:

Andrea Larson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States


Octovio Avila

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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