Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, is not very popular these days. She recently required every Yahoo employee to come into the office to work – or quit their jobs. This mandate is universally taken as a statement against telecommuting. The topic has earned a lot of attention and sparked many a discussion; and the hysteria in the blogosphere caught up with me too. Here is my perspective on the matter. There is no need, let alone compulsion, for anyone to blindly follow the actions of another, unless a parallel can be drawn between their peculiar conditions as well the goals each of them wishes to reach!
One company’s business decision cannot end telecommuting – just as one swallow does not make a summer! As in other posts, I examine this issue by asking the three key questions:
Yahoo’s peculiar situation, in an industry marked by very stiff competition, makes it important for the company to do things differently. Marissa Mayer is charged with turning the company around and returning it to prosperity. She believes that, by requiring everyone to work from a Yahoo office, Yahoo will develop a spirit of camaraderie and bond together to build a better future for the organization. Co-locating employees will foster brainstorming and increase productivity. More cynical minds believe that she is shedding an excess count of employees without appearing to lay anyone off.
Will Marissa’s strategy work? This feels to me like a return to the comfort of the past. Today’s most successful companies tap into talent everywhere in the world, forging collaborative and productive teams. Today’s technology allows us to share and jointly author documents. Employees use instant messaging, screen-sharing, VOIP etc. to talk with each other as though they are in the same room. With the advantages offered by information technology, and the gadgets and widgets evolving on a daily basis to help people to take advantage of its offerings, many companies have reduced their “brick and mortar” real estate, further cutting costs. Most of these companies report an increase in productivity, as remote workers tend to devote the time previously spent commuting to conducting actual work. Many crowdsourcing and other free-lancing assignments are planned with telecommuting as an essential component of the equation, and many Federal agencies encourage their staff to work remotely
As discussed in an earlier post – successful telecommuting requires a changed mindset, high levels of trust and a major culture shift away from proud association with smart office spaces and belief in employees’ ability to stay engaged remotely. It also requires managers and employees to deal effectively with the loss of direct supervisory control. Performance management and accountability shifts the emphasis to deliverables. In essence, managers must establish a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with each remote worker, and establish processes for managing deliverables and milestones. Of course, not all positions are suited to remote work, which tends to fit best with knowledge workers. Each company must correctly identify the tasks which can be telecommuted.
Every CEO should have the right to decide whether work could be performed entirely remotely or would benefit from having workers physically present. However, we live in a connected world, and today’s executives must acquire the skill of remote staff management. To attract highly sought after employees who are seeking the flexibility and comfort of remote work, businesses must learn how to master the tools and management techniques required to disperse a team across global locations and time zones without compromising the quality of output or the productivity of the team. It would all depend on the tools being used and the way the teams are managed. As a first step, many companies develop a blended model in which employees are permitted to work remotely for a certain amount of time each week.
Surely, for every Yahoo that chooses to exit the model, we are bound to have ten other companies embracing it for the undeniable advantages it offers – like lowered infrastructure costs, better work-life balance, productive use of commuting times saved – with an indirect benefit in reduced carbon footprint and a greener environment.
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