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Workplace attitudes change toward 'face time'

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When a friend of his who owns an executive staffing firm was priced out of his Madison Avenue office, he let his five employees work at home. Now they meet weekly in a rented conference room.

Others also see face time becoming less essential: "Maintaining connections with colleagues is not all that difficult," says Richard Coughlan, an associate dean at the University of Richmond's business school in Virginia. "In plenty of offices these days, folks are communicating via e-mail with those just down the hall. Moving some of those offices into employees' homes may not have much of an effect."

Even so, face time remains important, says José Astorga of Marlton, N.J., a warehouse manager and author of "A Bull in a Glass House." "Face time is the human interaction that we require in order to bond more effectively and complete the trust and camaraderie-building that is essential to success."

Mr. Astorga finds generational differences. "Young managers or entrepreneurs are more inclined to understand the pros of working from home because they have been raised in an Internet society. Older managers often have to be retrained to let go of restrictive management styles."

Bosses who keep workers on a short leash often express concern that remote employees won't log enough hours, or that they'll watch YouTube. But Debra Dinnocenzo, president of VirtualWorks! in Pittsburgh, cautions managers not to assume that just because workers are in the office that they're being productive. She says most studies show an average increase in productivity of 30 percent for telecommuters.

Juan Londono, marketing director for a roofing company in Bradenton, Fla., lives in Orlando. In the beginning, he recalls, his boss was skeptical of telecommuting. To compensate for face time, Mr. Londono keeps a time sheet and a detailed planner. "For the month, I try to make it easy for him to know that today I'm working on this, and I have a meeting with an agency to discuss such and such," he says. "We meet once a week and go over the time sheet or priority list. He's become very receptive to that. I don't get questioned as often."

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