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VOL. 130 | NO. 139 | Monday, July 20, 2015

Digital Diaspora

Memphis companies embrace allowing employees to work remotely

By Andy Meek

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The ubiquitous connectivity that permeates today's workplace is having a profound effect on company cultures, most notably in the digitally-fueled diaspora unfolding in which employees can work from just about anywhere.

Where remote working is taking place – at firms like Memphis CPA firm Cannon Wright Blount –employees are still able to stay tethered to the corporate mothership, far-flung as they may be.

Although Cannon Wright Blount senior director of software solutions Debbie Bosse relocated to California, technology like Skype enabled her to keep her Memphis-based job.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

For example, when Cannon Wright Blount senior director of software solutions Debbie Bosse had to relocate to California, the abundance of software tools and Web services made it possible for her to remain employed with the firm.

Bosse, who worked for several years in the CPA firm's Memphis office, moved to California last year but still works for the firm while adhering to a Central time zone schedule.

"As the accounting industry has changed over the years, it doesn't always require face-to-face meetings anymore or taking up space on a client site," says Cannon Wright Blount partner Doug Wright. "Technology has also allowed more employees to work remotely – maybe it's the mom who wants to stay at home more with the kids. We now have the ability to offer that to our employees as a convenience for them.”

These arrangements are becoming more prevalent in the accounting industry, which is facing a labor shortage not only here but nationwide.

“So to be flexible is to keep folks happy, especially among those who are looking for more of a work-life balance," Wright says.

And it’s not just happening in the accounting industry.

Ross Flournoy, vice president of business development for pimento cheese producer Tom's Tiny Kitchen, is another example.

Although his company is based in Memphis, Flournoy made a move to Los Angeles and is still employed by the company. And Kelli Brignac and Daniel Wade both work remotely for Memphis-based Obsidian Public Relations as account managers.

Brignac and Wade both worked in the Memphis office for a few years before making moves to Louisiana and Arkansas, and both now carry out their roles from their respective home offices.

Cannon Wright Blount, Tom's Tiny Kitchen and Obsidian all say they're able to make the situations work thanks to tools like Skype and the employees' periodic travel to Memphis.

Even more important, they say their clients and partners have noticed no gap in services.

The firms also say the willingness to retain and support remote workers can be seen as a perk to help give the firms an edge in the constant race to attract the best talent.

"Schedule flexibility has always been a strong part of Obsidian’s culture," says Obsidian founder Courtney Ellett. "As long as a colleague’s quality of work, account service and communication live up to our standards, we’re happy to entertain new ideas on how and where they get that work done."

Because of that stance, she adds it wasn't a stretch for the firm to consider out-of-state employee situations.

"For Kelli, she was in Memphis with us for quite a while before learning she was moving back to her hometown for her husband’s new job," Ellett said. "I didn’t want to think of losing her, so I suggested she stay on board and work from home.

“For Daniel, he worked with us for years when we were a younger company, and I recruited him back in 2014 knowing he and his family wouldn’t be relocating to Memphis from Little Rock,” Ellet said.

Brignac and Wade were familiar with Obsidian’s environment, the city and “our collective personality,” so not being in the office every day hasn’t been a problem.

“Plus, through various communication channels, they are an ever-present element in what makes Obsidian the firm we are," Ellet said.

Ellet emphasizes that this kind of setup isn't a perfect fit for every worker and every company. Obsidian decided it simply worked for them and that they wanted to continue making it work for them.

The remote employees use their home-based office to their advantage, Ellett says, and it continues to be her hope that every client feels as if they're "just down the street," even if they're actually a few states away.

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