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It’s been well over a year since Yahoo’s controversial non-telecommuting policy, which created a firestorm of reaction. We thought we’d see what the state of telecommuting is after the smoke has cleared.
I remember it well. It was the end of February in 2013 when Yahoo’s celebrated young CEO, Marissa Mayer, decided to end telecommuting at Yahoo to boost collaboration and communication within the company. The memo was leaked to tech journalist, Kara Swisher, then at AllThingsD. The reaction in the mainstream and tech media was huge and it reverberated for weeks afterward.
Forbes printed a piece called Back to the Stone Age? USA News did one called Yahoo's work from home ban puzzles business leaders. The Washington Post talked about Yahoo’s perplexing work-from-home ban. The New York Times printed In Defense of Telecommuting. Wired, CNET, ZDNet, TechCrunch and all the rest puzzled about the decision.
It generated a robust public debate, and a good deal of it sided with Yahoo against telecommuting. On Quora, a number of Yahoo employees stepped up to applaud the move. Retail giant, Best Buy, followed Yahoo's example and eliminated their flexible work program that gave its corporate employees the option to work when and where they wanted.
Amidst all the sound and fury it became clear that the famous Yahoo telecommuting ban affected just full-time home workers, around 200 out of 12,000 Yahoo employees or 1.6 percent of employees. The vast majority of Yahoo employees retained the option to telecommute. According to Mashable, Yahoo managers reassured employees that they could work remotely when necessary. “Be here when you can," one manager reportedly told an employee. "Use your best judgment. But if you have to stay home for the cable guy or because your kid is sick, do it.” Best Buy also gave employees the option to work remotely with manager approval.
The debate died down in due course, and just like before the furor, the knowledge economy keeps growing with more of us every year doing our work on IT devices that don’t require is to be tethered to an office all the time. The Forbes Stone Age piece cites David Lewin, management professor at UCLA “A variety of studies show that telecommuting and working from home is associated with higher productivity.” I’d have to add that telecommuting is regarded as a green technology because it reduces car commuting and other types of travel.
About a year after the controversy, The New York Times reported that Telecommuting Is Fast on the Rise. I actually like that piece because it has a balanced discussion on the pros and cons of telecommuting. It concludes by saying that “most people like to have some combination of home and office work.” Also, the latest Staples Telecommuting Survey (June 2014) finds that telecommuting is a major incentive in recruiting talented employees.
Actually, one of the best things I’ve seen that came out of the Yahoo controversy is Fast Company’s Telecommuting Works If You Intentionally Design It. This piece talks about how essential "commitment-based management" is to successful telecommuting. Managing remote workers is quite different than managing office workers. Rather than trying to make sure that employees are busy all the time, commitment-based management holds employees accountable for meeting their commitments to the organization by deliverable dates.
One of the downsides to telecommuting according to the Staples Telecommuting Survey is that a majority of employers report that their telecommuters have connectivity problems several times per month or more.
One thing we use quite a bit at TechSoup for meetings involving our telecommuters is the ReadyTalk audio and web conferencing service. You just need a phone to use it. This donor partner provides discounted rates for a $50 admin fee for 5 accounts. The service allows us to conduct meetings either by phone or if we want to share documents to share them over the web via the ReadyTalk website. The service essentially:
We’ve long advocated for effective telecommuting at TechSoup, but it’s certainly not for everyone or every organization. I want to sincerely thank Marissa Mayer and Yahoo for making it a controversy and breathing new life in to the subject. I know it turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, but it did make us rationally evaluate it again like the way Mark Craemer did in the Seattle PI in his piece Telecommuting: When Does it Make Sense?. Good job, Marissa.
Do you have any tips on how your organization does telecommuting? Please log in and tell us.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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