Yahoo Stops Teleworking, But at What Cost?

A company-wide edict that Yahoo employees can no longer work remotely is creating a stir among telecommuting advocates who believe out-of-office work creates important business benefits.

The long-running debate around telecommuting is charged up this week.

When I work with an organization or an association to set up a teleworking policy, the first thing we do is say, ‘What are your business drivers?’

Last Friday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that the company would abandon its telecommuting policy and require all of the company’s current telecommuters to work in the office starting June 1.

Citing the need for greater collaboration and productivity, Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent an internal memo to employees explaining the change.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Reses wrote in the memo leaked to the tech site All Things D. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

Kara Swisher at All Things D reported that the new policy is Mayer’s latest move to change company culture and revive “a moribund and enervated workforce that has struggled to innovate and excel over many years.”

But not everyone agrees that working remotely stifles innovation, including Rob Smith, president of NetSmith Services, an association management consulting firm, and author of Telework: A Critical Component of Your Total Rewards Strategy. Technology tools like remote document systems, instant messaging, videoconferencing platforms, and the good old phone can foster remote collaboration, he said.

What’s important is to structure a teleworking program to meet the potential needs of in-person collaboration, Smith said. Employees may not need to work in the office all the time, but by setting a standard for how often they should come in, organizations can reap the benefits of both worlds.

Small-staff associations, for example, can use the option to telecommute as a benefit to help recruit and retain talent when they can’t compete with larger organizations offering higher salaries, Smith said.

Other business benefits of working remotely include reducing real estate expenses, reducing congestion and commuting times, and maintaining an image as a green, sustainable organization, said Dayna Fellows, president of WorkLife Performance, Inc., adding that these programs work best when they are established as a business methodology, not as a perk.

“When I work with an organization or an association to set up a teleworking policy, the first thing we do is say, ‘What are your business drivers?’” Fellows said. “What are the business reasons for doing this?”

Fellows advises creating a clear, transparent telecommuting policy, which only 52 percent of associations are doing, according to ASAE’s 2012 Benchmarking in Association Management: Human Resources study. The survey of 190 associations found that 68 percent of respondents allow employees to work remotely.

A good policy should detail who can work remotely and when, so there is no confusion or unequal treatment within an organization, Fellows said, and an effective policy should underscore performance expectations.

“You lay out that you expect the work to be done as well or better,” she said. “Therefore, where you are when you get it done matters less.”

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (photo by magnus hoij/Flickr)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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