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March 23. 2013 3:06AM

Working from home drives success for Stratham marketing firm

STRATHAM - As large tech companies including Yahoo are making headlines for curtailing telecommuting for employees, one small New Hampshire company is embracing it.

Steve Casey founded Rain Advertising & Interactive in 2001. The marketing firm provides the resources its clients need to drive in new leads, including advertising, public relations, social media, search engine optimization and the Web.

As the company continued to grow, so did space needs and overhead costs.

"I was paying for space and having to pass along that cost to our clients instead of paying for talent to help meet their needs," he said. "Clients only came to our office at the outset of their working relationship with the agency."

So he made the decision to sell the office space and move the company back to his basement in 2010, giving his four full-time employees the option to work from home.

"Whatever did not serve the client's success was cut," Casey said. "Smart people that create effective solutions are what they want, not a central office space."

That doesn't mean his employees don't meet regularly to collaborate and share ideas.

"We've simply created this important space online via Skype and screen sharing. And we meet when it makes sense - oftentimes at the client site," Casey said.

Various online management tools allow the employees to constantly interact and weigh in on projects whether live, in text or via video message, a tool Casey commonly uses to provide input.

He said it is important to tie employee performance to the company's success for telecommuting to work effectively.

Because compensation at Rain is based on a fixed salary with an opportunity to earn a results-based percentage of profits, employees are motivated to track the performance of the resources they employ, Casey said.

Much of the debate about the virtual office is about the accountability and productivity of employees who are working on their own. Part of that is solved in the hiring process, Casey said.

He looks for people who have specific areas of expertise, are self-motivated, have strong client relationship skills, are able to work independently and are organized.

"We're built to scare off people who are looking for a paycheck and a place to hide," Casey said. "If the office space is just a holding pen, then get rid of it. Your best employees will thank you, and the underperformers will continue to do so in a manner that's easier to spot."

Making this shift was not necessarily easy for Casey.

"I had to close my eyes to my old way of managing by head count and 'feel' through the P&L, program success and client feedback," Casey said.

Rain Project Manager Catherine Palm says the virtual business model makes her more accountable to the company, not less.

"The model makes me much more willing to put in the extra effort when needed because Rain has given me the flexibility in my work and home life," Palm said. "Because of the flexibility I am more loyal to the company. Honestly, why would I leave?"

In addition to his four full-time staff, Casey hires many "perma-lancers," professionals freelancing in a wide range of specialties that are given steady work.

"This model makes sure the right skills are applied to the right problem. Everyone gets to do what they like to do, and our clients get the full range of necessary marketing solutions," Casey said.

Year after year more and more companies, and even the federal government, are increasing the number of employees who regularly telecommute.

Last year, International Data Corp. forecast that by 2015 the number of mobile workers is expected to reach more than 1.3 billion, or about 37.2 percent of the world's workforce. IDC's study, Worldwide Mobile Worker Population 2011-2015 Forecast, predicted that in North America alone, about 160 million workers are expected to be part of the mobile workforce by 2015.

Casey said a decision to allow employees to telecommute should not necessarily be about whether it is good for employees, but whether it is better for clients.

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