March 5, 2013
This week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer issued an internal memo announcing employees were no longer authorized to telecommute. Mayer stated that she needed all Yahoo Workers to “feel the energy and buzz” of the office.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” she wrote. “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.” Yahoo’s reputation of being an Internet dinosaur may have just solidified all the more, but is there a method to Mayer’s madness? And will this backlash against at-home workers spread beyond Mayer’s domain?
Popularity of Telecommuting
Karla Evans, a dotcom producer since 1996, insists telecommuting not only saved her career, it saved her sanity too.
“I’ve been a telecommuter for four years now, and can honestly say it’s been life changing,” she stated. “I couldn’t handle office politics and cube culture anymore, at least not 24/7. Working from home has meant more serenity and happiness by a large margin.”
But does work have to suffer in order for employees to experience less stress?
“Oh heck no,” she retorts. “Ask my recent employers. They would echo that it’s the best thing for me and people like me, and that my efficiency and productivity haven’t suffered, they’ve increased all the more. I’m happy now. Which means I have lots of energy to work my tail off. I’m so grateful to have my freedom, I go the extra mile every day.”
Evans’ sentiments are shared by millions of workers, especially in the IT industry. A 2011 report by the U.S. Labor Department reported that 24 percent of employed Americans say they work at least a few hours at home each week. The report also quantified what is obvious to any regular telecommuter — those with the freedom to work from home end up putting in more hours than those relegated to the office. When your work is waiting two doors down from your evening meal, it stands to reason you’ll be motivated to tackle things sooner rather than later.
Why the Backlash is Warranted
It’s easy to see why telecommuting would be popular — no congestion commutes, no office drama, the freedom to take breaks and stretch when needed, money saved on gas and food, and environmental benefits galore. But what are the drawbacks? Is Mayer right in requiring all employees to get the job done at the office?
There’s been plenty of negative feedback since Mayer’s memo, including a strong retort from Virgin Group founder and uber-famous businessman Richard Branson. He said in a tweet: “Perplexed by Yahoo stopping remote working. Give people the freedom of where to work and they will excel.”
While this makes sense on a general scale, Mayer may be on to something very critical for Yahoo’s culture. She inherited an absolute mess when she was appointed CEO last year, and the company had burned through four other top dogs and thousands of workers in the few years preceding. Since taking the executive post, Mayer has truly cleaned house. The stock price is up about 50 percent, and she’s executed a series of top-level management change and acquisitions. Demanding her company work through their challenges in-person at this stage does make sense, considering that Yahoo’s culture is still severely disjointed.
Managing telecommuters is a unique challenge. Hiring them is even more difficult. Working at home requires tremendous self-discipline, integrity and time management skills — things most people feel they have, but often do not, at least not to the degree they assume. Working from home is like writing the great American novel — everyone thinks they can do it, but only a few truly excel. Remote managers face unique challenges too. Because the personal connection is lacking, they must work harder at communicating with teams. Engendering a sense of ownership and belonging is certainly more difficult, and mangers must be proactive and open about issues the moment they surface. Since telecommuting offers many benefits, it makes sense there’s a balance in expectations.
Will Other Companies Follow Yahoo’s Lead?
The Society for Human Resource Management reports that 53 percent of U.S. employers offered flexible work options in 2012, up from 48 percent in 2007. It’s clear the telecommuting trend is growing, and Yahoo’s recent move away from remote working will likely not affect this growth at all. In fact, many feel this is a temporary shift for Yahoo as they rebuild a fragmented culture. Once Yahoo feels like a well-oiled machine again, workers may very well be gifted back a bigger dose of freedom.
Regardless, telecommuting isn’t going away, and all signs point to further growth.
To emphasize this trend, Mobile Work Exchange will kick off its annual global celebration of at-home productivity with Telework Week, taking place March 4-8. Telework Week aims to encourage all the benefits of remote working, including the reduction in traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, more than 71,000 people pledged to work from home at least one day during the week, which saved $5,651,890 on commuting costs, prevented 3,452 tons of pollutants from contaminating our air, and resulted in 6,413,006 fewer miles being driven. The event entices companies and employees to try remote working and face their misconceptions. For those already taking the plunge, Telework Week allows workers to share their experiences with other business professionals, offering tips and advice for creating win-win scenarios for all.
Telecommuting is not one size fits all, but it is providing enormous benefits to companies, employees and the environment. Yahoo’s insistence that all workers show up each day is a decent short-term solution, as it will weed out the unproductive members much faster. It’s unclear if Mayer only has her company’s best interest in mind, or if she also has an axe to grind against remote working in general.
Regardless, telecommuting will only grow as technology continues to make digital communication more personal. And, as top talent in the industry insist more and more on maintaining some freedom and flexibility, the Mayer’s of the world will have no choice but to say “go home and go to work.”
Producer, game designer and freelance writer, Tina Courtney-Brown has been a bona fide web fiend since she discovered Poetry.com in 1994. Tina’s fortés include all aspects of online business, social media, marketing trends, alternative health, digital production and many more. She’s a passionate truth-teller, a sincere advocate for the environment, and an obsessive dessert creator. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook.