If You’ve Got Talent, You Can Telecommute

A short supply of talented tech workers with in-demand skills combined with new telecommuting technologies is creating an environment where the best and brightest can write their own telecommuting ticket. Dice talked to Vimal Shyamji, partner and general manager of leading recruiting firm Winter, Wyman to get his real-world take on how telecommuting is becoming commonplace in the technology employment arena.

Q. More technology workers, especially developers, want to telecommute at least part of the time, and more companies are amenable to the concept. Why?

A. It’s often a function of supply and demand. For example, I recruit for a company in east Tennessee in the digital media space that needed a Java guru. Well, there’s not a lot of local digital media talent there, so I told them that even though they were used to in-person collaboration, they were going to have to work with someone remotely to get what they needed. That Java expert is in demand. He can pretty much define how, when, and where he wants to work.

Q. It must be more comfortable for companies that are used to working virtually.

A. Sure. There’s a really big media outlet in New York City that has a data architect in Arizona, someone else in upstate New York, a CTO in Connecticut, and one guy in the main office. When they had a tough time finding New York-based talent for Ruby on Rails development, we found them someone in North Carolina, and it worked out fine.

Q. Are some development skills more in demand?

A. Ruby on Rails is a good example. In just the past six months it’s become pretty much understood that if you do Ruby on Rails development, you shouldn’t have to go into an office. Companies are desperate enough for your talent that they’ll let you work wherever you want. WebSphere e-commerce development is another good example.

Q. Are there any particular types of companies that are more amenable to telecommuting?

A. You’re going to see it more at small and big companies and less at mid-size companies. Small digitally savvy companies at the leading edge of technology understand this is the way the world is going, and big companies have controls and systems in place to provide for accountability.

Q. Like Big Brother watching you work remotely?

A. Not exactly. One company I work with gave remote workers company-issued laptops that had software built into them to track what they were working on and when. That way managers didn’t have to worry about whether they were paying for 40 hours of work but only getting 20.

Q. Making managers feel comfortable with telecommuting workers seems vital.

A. Right. It’s a dying breed of manager who says “I demand top talent, and I want it sitting in front of me nine to ten hours a day five days a week.” Having said that, it’s up to managers to set crystal clear expectations of their remote workers when it comes to availability, productivity, and deadlines, and it’s up to the remote workers to do whatever it takes to meet those expectations and remain in constant contact.

Q. If I want to make the case to work remotely, what do I need to say?

A. You need to set clear expectations too. Here’s how and when I’m going to be available by phone, by text, by IM, by e-mail. Here’s the response time I can commit to. I can be available for meetings. I have a web cam. You’ll be able to see me. The onus is on you to make sure your manager is comfortable. If you’ve worked remotely with success before, be sure to make that point and provide references. The more you can assuage the manager’s concerns up front, the better off you’ll be.

Q. Should a remote worker always promise to be available by video, be it by Skype or some other method?

A. I think so. It feels like now it’s kind of expected.

Q. Does telecommuting imply 24/7 availability?

A. Yes. I wish it wasn’t the case, but we all know there’s no personal space anymore. Most managers expect to be able find you any time of the day and week.

Q. So there’s more telecommuting to come?

A. Definitely. You’re going to see a snowball effect. As more companies allow it, more employees will demand it. It’s going to become a much more common practice.

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