Last month’s “no-work-at-home” pronouncement by Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer has set off quite the firestorm in telecommuting and telework circles.
In a company-wide email to employees on February 22nd, Yahoo’s head of HR laid out the new ban on telework in a short, four-paragraph memo. The memo stated, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”
News stories that followed cited Mayer’s concerns that “200 or so” Yahoo employees were working remotely and that “some did little work for the company and a few had even begun their own start-ups on the side.”
In the last four years, I have written several blogs on the benefits of telework for many companies. I’ve noted that while some positions may not lend themselves to working remotely, others could be effectively performed at home or elsewhere for at least some portion of the work week. In a June 2009 blog posting, I cited several independent studies showing that many employees are more productive working from home. I coupled this with my own experience as a senior HR executive for several large corporations.
Mayer, 37, who is a former executive at Google, does admit that some employees can be more productive working from home. However, she argues that productivity does not translate into innovation and that employees need to be in the same physical location in order to collaborate and innovate.
In another blog posting in 2009, I noted how an average employee can spend as much as 90 minutes a day commuting, and how a stressful commute can seriously impact one’s mindset and productivity. I went on to talk about how “innovation starts with happy and inspired employees, and employees who can get to their ‘creative place’ – whether that be a physical place or a state of mind.”
Let me pose this question: Is an employee apt to be in a more creative frame of mind working from: (a) home or other preferred location, or (b) in a cubicle after spending an hour in traffic?
I would argue that the employee problems that exist at Yahoo are not the result of working remotely, but the product of an ill-defined and ill-managed telework program. Whether an employee is working in the office next door or from home, it’s the responsibility of that employee’s manager to make sure he or she is fully collaborating and contributing.
I too agree that in-person collaboration can lead to creativity and innovation. Yet, a flexible and well-structured telework program could include regular in-person sessions, while also allowing for time working from home.
So let’s not make telework the scapegoat for a company’s lack of creativity. Banning telework would be like a basketball coach banning the full-court press from his or her playbook in response to a loss of a game due to a poorly executed play. That would be madness.
Like telework for a company, a full-court press can be an important game-winning tool for a basketball team – if properly executed.