Remote possibilities: The curious case of remote workers who work better than office workers

Published: Monday, Sept. 3 2012 10:00 a.m. MDT

Edinger says his own experience as a manager with a sales force around the world led him make a more conscious effort to reach out to people he wasn't in the office with. "So I was very conscious to talk with everyone on my team multiple times a week," he says. "And it wasn't just going to be to ask them about their forecast. I was going to talk with them about what was happening in their business and what was happening in their life. … But if someone is down the hall from you, you may not talk to them all day."

3. Leaders of virtual teams make a better use of tools.

Sharon Roux is COO at The Summit Group Communications, a marketing agency in Salt Lake City, and oversees its human resource programs. Roux says The Summit Group makes extra efforts to communicate with its remote workers. The company schedules weekly conference calls and other communication. "You have to make it routine to check in," Roux says, "because you will not run into them at the water cooler."

4. Leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time their teams spend together.

Besides coming in to the company headquarters for an orientation when they are hired, Roux says The Summit Group brings all their workers in once a year for a meeting and morale-building activities.

The Summit Group uses remote workers because it has clients regionally and nationally, Roux says.

"We wanted to establish great relations with our clients," she says, "and that is best done with face-to-face time."

So the agency hired account management people in several large markets in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Michigan. "It works very well," Roux says, "Clients are happy to have someone in their area. And it helped us, being a smaller firm, to gain trust with them."

Another advantage Roux notices is the concept of remote working opens up a larger area for human resources recruitment.

"I can look at other regions at a bigger talent pool," she says. "And it keeps overhead down."

Not one-size-fits-all

Notwithstanding the success with remote workers in other parts of the country, locally The Summit Group doesn't have anyone who works from home (except for the occasional project).

"By and large we expect our people to come in," Roux says.

As Robert says, remote working is not the answer for every job situation and comes with costs.

"It is not a one-size-fits-all solution," he says.

One downside to remote working, according to Robert, is employees don't identify as much with the company.

"A person who comes in every day identifies with the company, has a stronger bond to it and is more likely to engage and support it," he says.

Instead, remote employees (depending upon the type of work done) may identify more with the clients they work with than with the company that pays their salary.

Roux says she has noticed that there is a disadvantage to remote workers if they want to move up in a company. "It helps to be at the headquarters and be seen," she says. "There are no chance meetings in a hallway if you are not there."

But even if employees do not intend on working at home, they like to have that option, Edinger says.

"Offices and headquarters are not going anywhere," Edinger says. "But if you ask people if they want the flexibility to work from home if they wanted to, they jump on it."

"Most people think, 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Edinger says. "The truth is, people who don't work in an office can still thrive."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

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