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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.

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.

Operating a business that sells and uses cloud computing products makes telecommuting possible for all jobs at RightScale in Santa Barbara, California. The firm's cloud-based servers can only be accessed remotely via Web tools and "you can do that anywhere you want," said Rafael Saavedra, vice president of engineering and a founder of the company, which offers cloud computing infrastructure management products as a service.

The telecommuting option is not granted automatically and employees must demonstrate to management that they are comfortable with working offsite, he said.

"In the same way you have to be competent technically, we have to convince ourselves that you can work remotely," Saavedra said. "If we hire you to be a remote person, it's because we believe you're going to be successful. If we hire local, you have the option to move, but we have to make sure that its going to work out."

It's key for employees to show how well they can work offsite since that counts for around 70 percent of management's decision, Saavedra said.

Convincing management requires employees to show, among other criteria, that their preferred work environment will lead to productivity and they won't miss interacting with co-workers. Previous telecommuting experience also helps, he said.

RightScale makes efforts to virtually link employees to the home office. When remote workers join Saavedra's department they spend several weeks at RightScale's headquarters to establish relationships with their co-workers. Meeting colleagues helps remote employees feel comfortable interacting with co-workers when they return to their offsite location, he said.

"They don't feel pigeonholed and say 'I don't know anyone' and 'I don't know if I can interrupt this person'," Saavedra said.

To give remote workers "constant interaction" with co-workers, the company holds daily calls with all developers during which they discuss their projects and any issues they are having. In addition, remote workers use Web cameras to participate in meetings and RightScale conference rooms are equipped with cameras so offsite workers can see their colleagues.

Despite RightScale's efforts to connect its remote workforce, Saavedra realizes that a factor beyond the company's control also influences an employee's telecommuting experience.

"It depends on the particular person," he said. "We have had some cases of competent engineers who worked from home, but they were really unhappy because they needed constant interaction with people. But others have been doing it for five years and they love it."

 

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