What It's Like to Work at Airborne Freight Corp.

Interviewee: Patty Conway, manager of the field services technologies unit

Company: Airborne Freight Corp.'s Airborne Express (www.airborne.com)

Main location: Seattle, on the Puget Sound waterfront

What is the field services technologies unit? The liaison between central information technology, the drivers (about 14,000) and the local dispatch stations (about 300 worldwide)

Number of IT employees: "We have six now in field services, and we're ramping up for a wireless project, so we'll (have) 30 by next spring." Central IT has 440 employees.

Number of employees (end users): About 20,000

Major project: "We just got funded ($50 million for five years) to do a wireless real-time dispatch and proof-of-delivery system. . . We also do the business-case development and the financials, so we're part of a much longer life cycle than just the IT life cycle."

How will the project change field operations? "Right now, we have a very decentralized voice environment, using acoustic couplers to download information twice a day." The new system will use two-way Motorola Inc. pagers to relay information.

How is your group's relationship with the field employees? "Communication is good. We've had critical design meetings where the field people come in and give their input. . . My people tend to know the field, but we suggest to all the (central) IT support folks that they spend a day on the trucks to understand what the business (process) is. . . We make ourselves very available to them."

Technology training: "Most of our training is hands-on. . . I hope to get some people training in project management."

Workday: "Most people arrive between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. and leave at 4 and 5 p.m., unless we're on a critical project. Then it's lots of hours, all the time. During deployments, we work on weekends because we're a six-day operation."

Employee reviews: Annually

Bonuses: Annual bonuses and Airborne Project for Excellence, a cash performance award. No spot bonuses, "but I would like to see those set up."

Dress code: "It tends to be more casual than some of the traditional business units."

Decor: "There's some artwork, but the views are the real artwork. We look out over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, and there's also a view of downtown Seattle. One of our buildings has decks on each floor that extend from one end of the building to the other, and most of the cubes and offices have windows."

Must people carry beepers and cell phones? "We wear pagers with real-time e-mail, and we carry cell phones when we're doing deployments and rollouts. At this point, we don't have an on-call rotation, but we will have to work that out as we get further along in the project. We're not often called in after hours because support for field systems is provided by central IT, so we only have to get involved if there's a major problem."

Percentage of staff who telecommutes: "There's not a lot right now, but I would like to allow more of that."

On-site day care? No

Food: "We're located in a great part of the city with lots of ethnic restaurants and delis."

The one thing everyone complains about: "The hardest thing is parking. Some people in my group don't qualify for parking privileges, and they have to park on the street, so they come in early to get free parking."

Where the staff gossips: "In the summer, out on the decks."

Perks: Discounts on major airlines; free passes to local attractions like zoos and museums.

Last companywide or department perk: "We don't really do anything companywide."

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO? "Our executives are very available."

- Leslie Goff

Focus on Workstyles

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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