Last week, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end the company’s work-from-home policy set social and mainstream media abuzz with people weighing in on whether it is a good idea.
Most think it is not a good idea, and the research is on their side. A 2011 study by Telework Research Network found that working remotely increased 73 percent from 2005 to 2011 in the United States.
Mayer’s argument that a virtual environment reduces employees’ ability to communicate is shortsighted. Furthermore, the argument that impromptu meetings promote a cutting-edge culture is false.
At Jaffe, we have been solely telecommuting for 30 years or so. Basic tools such as the telephone, Internet and instant messaging enable us to seamlessly connect with each other and our clients. Of course, face-to-face interaction is important, which is why we regularly visit our clients and see our colleagues.
On a day-to-day basis, though, telecommuting significantly improves productivity. There is a place for “impromptu” team meetings, but water-cooler conversations can be time-consuming and inefficient.
When I moved from an office to a virtual environment, I was amazed at how much more time I had to do my work, which enabled me to think more creatively and produce more in less time—a benefit to my clients, my company and myself. And working from a virtual environment often means that I am available to my clients when they need me—whether at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.
As at Yahoo, working as a legal marketing professional requires a collaborative approach. Regular meetings between attorneys and marketing staff are essential to creating and implementing public reputation strategies. However, our work also requires a lot of writing, pitching and strategic thinking—activities that are not linked to a cubicle.
The challenge—and stigma—attached to telecommuting is that people who telecommute supposedly aren’t as professional, and are trying to juggle the needs of their family and household while also trying to work. High professional standards and discipline are required for telecommuting to be successful in any environment. A worker who is unproductive and easily distracted at home is likely to have the same problem at the office—and be disruptive to colleagues.
In many environments, telecommuting is advantageous and increases productivity. There is no commute to contend with, so employees don’t arrive haggard and bad-tempered after battling traffic. Working from home reduces office gossip and other idle activities that can consume hours of employees’ time. And it promotes wellness – sick workers don’t come to the office and spread their illness. Telecommunting workers often spend a portion of the time they would have spent driving on exercising or doing other, more healthful activities.
Yahoo faces a number of challenges in its future: They will lose loyal, essential workers who are unwilling to move to physically commute to the office, they will lose productivity by forcing people who are accustomed to working at home to work in an office environment and company morale could plummet as the company moves against the national trend of telecommuting.