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For tech staffers, working remotely requires more than Wi-Fi and a desk

Fred O'Connor | June 7, 2012
Web services, VoIP and other technology may have turned any place with an Internet connection into an office and decreased the importance of an IT professional's location, but a range of factors contribute to how enterprise telecommuting policies are developed and who should untether from the traditional workplace, said IT executives and staffing professionals.

A distributed workforce gives RightScale a wider candidate pool to select from in a market where "competition for talent is fierce" given the many tech firms located in Santa Barbara, he said.

"We're forced to look at talent where that talent is," he said. "Sometimes they're willing to come to Santa Barbara, but many times they are happy to work with us, but they do it from their hometown."

The demand for tech workers has made more businesses open to considering remote candidates, but staff who work outside the office is "still not a preference for most companies," said Vimal Shyamji, a partner and general manager of the National Technology Contracts division at staffing firm Winter, Wyman.

A New York tech firm Shyamji was working with initially considered a telecommute candidate located in North Carolina to fill a position requiring Ruby on Rails development skills. The company decided not to go with the out-of-state applicant after finding local candidates.

Employees contemplating working remotely should consider their career goals and the value of face time before setting up their home office, Shyamji advised.

"If you are looking for a more senior level role then you probably need to be seen and heard with your peers as well as with management to make that progression," he said.

A job's main duties can impact how successfully it translates to a virtual model, Shyamji said. Business analysts who interview end users then explain their tech needs to IT staffers may find their job "a lot more challenging if [they are] not physically seeing people," he said.

Even software developers, a traditionally solitary IT position, may find they too can benefit from human interaction.

"Anything that's pure development definitely works pretty well remotely," Shyamji said. "But even on the technical side once you get into heavy architecture there sometimes needs to be more collaboration that might need to be done in person versus on Skype."

For companies that do permit telecommuting, employees and managers need to set communication guidelines, he said. Both parties should understand the hours that the remote workers will be available, how best to contact them and what is an acceptable time frame for them to respond to a co-worker. A seamless interaction between a telecommuter and the office should be the objective.

"Setting appropriate expectations to the smallest degree will save every manager and employee a lot of frustration," Shyamji said. "If it is imminently more difficult to reach you than it is the person down the hall that's not a good situation for you."

For a company that has no halls or office and whose entire staff work remotely, like tech consulting and Web development company Aydus Consulting, establishing guidelines on when to connect helps everyone stay on track.


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