What Marissa Mayer Doesn’t Get About Telecommuting
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting and require remote employees to move onsite by June 1 has caused a lot of controversy in the business world. According to an internal memo from Yahoo HR head Jackie Reses, this decision was made because:
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
Certainly, it’s understandable why Mayer would make this decision, and her reasoning behind this decision is sound. There are others who agree with this decision, and the objections that they raise to telecommuting are valid. Yes, there are people who abuse the privilege of telecommuting. Yes, telecommuting is not for everyone. Yes, there often is no substitute for in-person, face-to-face interactions. And yes, Yahoo!’s workforce – and every workforce – needs to be more disciplined to get and stay ahead in a competitive world.
Telecommuting Can Work for Employers and Employees
As a seasoned telecommuter, I understand Mayer’s decision. However, I respectfully disagree with Mayer. My experience as a telecommuter, and the experience of thousands of telecommuters around the nation, is living proof that telecommuting works, and both employees and the organizations that employ them can benefit.
Employees benefit from greater flexibility, less stress, saving money on expenses like gas, parking and tolls, and fewer hassles and distractions, which ultimately leads to greater productivity. Employers benefit, too, because telecommuting attracts top talent, saves money on office space, and yes, more engaged, productive, and happy employees – and there’s evidence that this is true.
According to a study by Cisco, approximately 69 percent of the employees surveyed cited higher productivity when working remotely, and 75 percent of those surveyed said the timeliness of their work improved. 83 percent of employees said their ability to communicate and collaborate with co-workers was the same as, if not better than, it was when working onsite. 67 percent of employees said their overall work quality improved when telecommuting. More than 91 percent of respondents say telecommuting is somewhat or very important to their overall satisfaction.
Don’t Eliminate Telecommuting – Improve It
Despite the benefits of telecommuting, there are still pitfalls, and Yahoo! and other companies still have qualms about telecommuting. That doesn’t mean that telecommuting should be eliminated, but rather that employers need to make sure that they provide the right conditions for employees to succeed as telecommuters, and employees need to determine if telecommuting is right for them. With that in mind, here are some recommendations for Yahoo! and other employers to maximize the advantages of telecommuting while minimizing the pitfalls.
Set and manage clear expectations.
Employers and employees enter into telecommuting arrangements with certain expectations, which can lead to problems if not met. Both parties need to determine if telecommuting makes sense for employees, their managers, and the company as a whole, and then define and communicate their expectations with respect to productivity, work hours and access to company resources.
Allow a trial period.
As mentioned earlier, telecommuting is not for everyone. Allow a trial period; for example, 90 days, to find out if telecommuting arrangement makes the most sense for you and your employees. At the end of the trial period, you can either allow employees to continue telecommuting or require them to work in the office, depending on how well things went during that time.
Train telecommuters properly.
Telecommuters have unique knowledge needs for everything from how to log into the company network and set up teleconferences to how to communicate with a geographically dispersed team. The right training, or lack thereof, can mean the difference between success and contentment or failure and frustration.
Provide opportunities for in-person socialization.
Many telecommuters feel “out of the loop” when it comes to the goings-on in the office, and the folks in the office feel the same way about their telecommuting peers. Inviting your telecommuting employees to onsite social functions, whether at the home office or satellite locations, gives you a chance to get to know telecommuters as people and see the faces behind the screen.
Set up a structure for accountability.
People work harder and accomplish more when they feel accountable. A telecommuting arrangement should provide a solid structure for accountability, whether it involves weekly status reports or quarterly onsite one-on-one sessions.
Ultimately, business is about results. As a CEO, Mayer should understand that what matters is not where her employees work, but how they work, what they accomplish, and why they need to accomplish what they do.