Is Marissa Mayer Right About Telecommuting?

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Marissa Mayer was in the news again, and this time it wasn’t for giving out free iPhones to employees. The flash point for the Mayer-related chatter this week was the recent announcement that Yahoo! employees would soon be expected to work from the office, regardless of whether or not they’d had full-time telecommuting arrangements worked out with their managers. In fact, even workers who work at home only occasionally (you know, like to wait for the cable guy) are encouraged to “use their best judgment.” (Arguably corporate speak for “don’t do it.”) The goal, of course, was increased productivity, but does banning telecommuting really accomplish that?

Here are a few things to consider before introducing a work-from-home policy at your company or scrapping the one you already have.

Benefits:

 

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1. You might get better employees. Especially in the technical fields, telecommuting is a highly-prized perk. Also, if you let employees work remotely, you’ll have a wider geographic pool from which to draw. The end result is better workers.

2. You can pay less money for them. Outside of the top pool of technically-skilled workers, who will always command bigger salaries, offering a flexible schedule might allow you to pay lower salaries. Many workers will trade a little money for the ability to work at home.

3. Lower costs for you. Having remote workers means big savings in terms of fixed costs like rent and utilities.

 

Drawbacks:

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1. Technical difficulties. When your employees are office-based, computer glitches are easily solved. Tech support is usually just a few steps away, and if they can’t fix workers’ computers, they can usually give them loaners, enabling everyone to get back to work as soon as possible. Which leads to the next problem…

2. Possibly lower productivity. For every expert who says that telecommuting improves productivity, there’s an expert who says that it tanks results. Yahoo’s policy change was likely inspired by a productivity problem say insiders.

3. Less opportunity for brainstorming. Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s head of human resources, cited this reason as a primary one for the policy change. In the non-famous memo cancelling telecommuting, Reses said, “Being at Yahoo! isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.” Allowing employees to work at home means fewer unplanned conversations with colleagues and maybe less inspiration and innovation as a result.

Images: Adam Tinworth/Flickr, Ed Yourdon/Flickr, quinn.anya/Flickr

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