116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Eastern Iowa employers are not following the lead of Aetna, Bank of America, International Business Machines, Yahoo and other big businesses as they tell some or all telecommuting employees to move back to brick-and-mortar offices.
Telecommuting is an alternative work arrangement in which an employee works outside of the usual office, often from home or other location.
Last month, IBM gave thousands of telecommuting employees an ultimatum: either return to a regional office or find employment elsewhere. About 40 percent of the company's nearly 400,000 employees worldwide did not have a traditional office, the company said in 2007, the last time it released such data.
'In many fields, such as software development and digital marketing, the nature of work is changing, which requires new ways of working,” IBM said in a statement. 'We are bringing small, self-directed agile teams in these fields together.”
Lynn Manternach, president and co-founder of MindFire Communications, said her marketing and communications business plans no changes with regard to telecommuting employees.
'We've tightened up our perspective on telecommuting over the years, but we will never get everyone under one roof,” said Manternach, who herself telecommutes from her Cedar Rapids home to the company's headquarters in LeClaire. 'What we do is so ‘people-based' and we need the best talent.
'Sometimes the best talent is not in the same city where we have our office. We have an employee, Inga Rundquist, who has been with us for eight years, and she will never move to the Quad Cities because of her husband's job.
'We're not going to require her to move because it works very well as it is. You don't walk away from that talent.”
Rundquist, a MindFire owner and public relations 'arsonist” - a job title invented at MindFire - lives in Ames. She began working for MindFire when she lived in Chicago.
And Tony Nagy, MindFire internet web programmer or 'digital arsonist,” lives in Dubuque.
'A lot of what Tony does is not interdependent on a minute-by-minute basis with the rest of the team,” Manternach explained. 'He has to connect with the team pretty regularly to keep projects on track, but the majority of his work time is just him doing what he has to do.”
But some of MindFire's 18 employees, by virtue of their specific function, need to work in the LeClaire office, Manternach said.
'Our design team needs to work in physical proximity,” she said. 'They are able to read each other's body language. They can have quick side conversations, and nuances will not get lost in the technology.
'For us, having designers, writers and other members of the creative team works the best for our clients.”
At ACT Inc. in Iowa City, 'connected team members” have requirements in terms of hours for work, performance objectives and goals. But there is no requirement for a specific amount of time to be physically in the office, said Ed Colby, senior director of media and public relations for the college and career testing organization.
'There is occasional attendance for meetings and events as needed,” Colby said. 'Obviously they have to work in a place where they can connect readily to the ACT email.
'I personally deal with team members who are working remotely, and it does not affect our communications or the work that we do. It's always nice to see people in person, and we enjoy that when they do come in, but it doesn't really affect the work that we do.”
Exposure to corporate culture is critical for telecommuting associates at TrueNorth Companies, according to Dru Bridges, chief operating officer.
'When we hire someone who will be telecommuting, we have a fairly disciplined structure where they are in the office for a period of time when they start with our organization so they can get acclimated to the culture,” Bridges said. 'We also have expectations of them coming back into the office where they can again be part of the culture.”
Bridges, who spends about half her time working remotely from the company's branch offices in Texas, said corporate culture is a 'big part of who we are and what we stand for.”
'The sharing of information is much easier when you have a positive and upbeat culture,” she said. 'People can get energized and they engage at a different level.”
Bridges added that the difference between working at corporate headquarters and working remotely has become very apparent.
'The culture in our satellite locations is different because it's not within the four walls of Cedar Rapids,” she said. 'We try to duplicate what we have in Cedar Rapids, and that's probably why we will never be able to fully accommodate telecommuting.”
Other big employers are holding on to their telecommuting policy.
Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids has offered the option of telecommuting when hiring for some specific positions. Josh Baynes, senior manager of media relations, said the avionics, communications and information management company 'has no plans to change our workplace flexibility.”
At the University of Iowa, telecommuting is handled at the college and department level. Issues that must be addressed when telecommuting is considered include how much time will be spent in the office, what equipment will be necessary and who provides it, and how the employee will be supervised and evaluated.
UI spokesman Tom Snee said there have not been any conversations about getting rid of telecommuting or other types of flexible work arrangements.