Telecommute concept has pros and cons for Eastern Iowans

Companies find success without a central office

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Cramer Development debuted in Ames in 2000, opened a second location in Iowa City in 2003, and now has offices in 10 states — sort of. They’re home offices.

Most of the 15 employees for the web and mobile application development company often or always work outside the main office — including founder Josh Cramer.

“We sort of realized we didn’t need to be in the same place,” Cramer said this week from Moab, Utah, where he’s working remotely while spending time with his family.

Cramer Development got its start operating in the more traditional style — with all its employees stationed in a central office. But after moving to Iowa City, Cramer said, he realized he didn’t have to limit his employees to one region.

“We said, ‘Let’s take location off the table and eliminate that as a requirement. Let’s do a nationwide search, and let’s hire people based on talent and fit alone,’?” he said. “We have been able to build a high-quality team that I don’t think we could have built if we had limited our search to location.”

Cramer Development exemplifies just one of the ways telecommuting has and is continuing to change the way people work nationwide and in Eastern Iowa. Some telecommuters spend all their time away from the office, while others spend just a few days or hours telecommuting every week.

Telecommuters work more

Research conducted by University of Iowa associate professor Mary Noonan and University of Texas professor Jennifer Glass shows that telecommuting hasn’t totally permeated the American workforce — some jobs just can’t be done from home.

But, for employees who do telecommute, the research shows there are both pros and cons to having that flexibility. For starters, according to the research published in 2012, telecommuters tend to work more hours.

Telecommuting appears to facilitate workers’ needs for additional hours on the clock — beyond the standard workweek. And, in some cases, it enables employers to increase or intensify work demands on salaried employees, according to the research.

There are positives and negatives for employers, too. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently issued a directive for work-at-home employees to get back in the office — saying she wanted to increase collaboration.

Employees who telecommute like the flexibility it provides, said Noonan, who teaches sociology at the UI. But, she said, many don’t like that it blurs the boundaries between their personal lives and their work days.

“It looks like if you telecommute, it’s working against you and you’re not getting paid for it,” she said.  “Employers want more out of employees, and employees have to please.”

Noonan said she went into her research expecting to find telecommuters are more productive and have more personal time. But, she said, the results showed telecommuters aren’t spending extra time on themselves.

They’re just working more than they would have had they been in the office, and salaried employees aren’t getting compensated for the extra hours.

“It’s not a financial benefit,” she said.

Cramer, who lives in Iowa City, said he hasn’t found it more difficult as an employer to monitor the productivity of his telecommuting employees across the country.

“We document everything,” he said. “We have a work management system and time-tracking. Everything we do is tracked online, so I can pull up an activity feed for someone every day and see what they’re doing.”

Works for some

Ryan Keairns, 36, of Coralville, works for Cramer Development, and even though he lives just a short drive from the Iowa City office, he works most days from home. His wife stays home with their two young children, but Keairns said he’s left alone in his work space and gets more done.

“I have actually had fewer distractions,” he said. “And it completely eliminates the commute.”

Keairns said he spends his extra time every day doing side projects and reading articles — something he didn’t have time for before. He also said his ability to work remotely has enabled his family to take winter breaks — they’re actually heading to Austin, Texas, for another break from the cold.

Adam Keune shares the same mentality.

He is one of three UI graduates who co-founded a new Coralville-based business creating education mobile applications for students in certain graduate programs. Keune said Higher Learning Technologies has a central office in Coralville, and employees are often working there.

But, he said, the company always has been open to telecommuting — in fact one of its founders lives in Dubuque.

Keune said his team is about to start traveling to schools around the country to pitch their product, meaning they’ll be spending a lot of time telecommuting. Still, he said, there have been some issues with telecommuting employees — wondering whether they’re working when they should be.

“We don’t want to be standing over employees’ shoulders watching what they’re doing, but we still want to hold people accountable,” he said.

Keune said he understands, to some degree, the Yahoo directive to get everyone in the office.

“With the freedom, it can become easy for someone to slack off,” he said.

Still, Keune said, telecommuting is a necessity for his company. In fact, he said, the ability to telecommute is almost a requirement for any job candidate to his company.

“If they can’t telecommute, they would not be a good fit for our company,” he said.

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