Some PR firms compete to offer the most flexible and creative work-anywhere schedules. Others say telecommuting focuses too much on staff demands and overlooks the needs of the agency itself.
While it's rare that a firm would ban telecommuting outright, some are scaling back on lenient policies. Taking this stance puts a strain on recruiting efforts - especially for in-demand mid-level talent - but proponents of face time say the gains make it worthwhile.
For instance, even though technology has eliminated the need for some staffers to be in an office, human interaction can't be replicated. Motivators such as loyalty, camaraderie, and teamwork are strongest in traditional workplaces, telecommuting critics say.
Steve Spurgeon, MD at Porter Novelli San Francisco, says his office has an accommodating telecommuting policy. But he admits to drawbacks, and even those who work remotely are expected to periodically come into the office.
"There is a certain sort of alchemy that happens when people work in close proximity," he says. "Sometimes I think we're not aware of the subliminal things we pick up from other people's contributions. There's no way to duplicate that."
Jeanne Achille, president and CEO of the Shrewsbury, NJ-based Devon Group, says she found that a centralized approach was better for both clients and the agency.
"We're probably the antithesis of where things are going," she says. "Now, of course, going green, everyone is talking about telecommuting as an alternative. But we've found it to be a better scenario to have employees on the premises."
She says most of her clients - especially b-to-b ones - don't employ many telecommuters, and expect their PR firm to operate similarly.
"You can certainly be very productive [telecommuting]," she says. "But that doesn't necessarily mean the quality of the hours is the same as if you're collaborating with a team and have that ability to tap into other brains."
Mountain View, CA-based Eastwick Communications allows employees to work remotely, but also offers a solution for staffers who don't want to commute but like working in a collaborative environment: The firm set up a San Francisco satellite branch.
"For [many,] it's a better work experience if they can be with a bunch of people and benefit from that collaboration," says Eastwick principal Barbara Bates. "It was also in [our] best interest to have more visibility in San Francisco. You don't really get that when you have people working [at] home."
Roger Pynn, president of Maitland, FL-based Curley & Pynn, says junior staffers are better trained by working alongside senior-level employees.
"If the young people we are trying to nurture are dependent on a manager who is at home, they don't get the guidance and they don't grow as fast," he says.
And some executives say the demand for telecommuting isn't as robust as many may believe. Patty Briguglio, president of Raleigh, NC-based MMI Associates, touts her firm's office perks, such as its casual dress code and spa days, as coveted alternatives.
"It's a fun place to work," she says. "I don't think anyone would want to telecommute."
Lenient telecommuting policies aid in staff recruitment, but often overlook a firm's big-picture needs
Office face-time helps convey business nuances, promotes loyalty and teamwork, and ensures execs are easily reachable
Firms can make up for restricted telecommuting with other perks, such as early Friday closings