In an increasingly tight workforce where many employers struggle to find top talent, telecommuting can be a draw for those who prefer (or need) to have flexible work hours.
WORKshift Canada’s 2011 report, The Bottom Line on Telework, shows that Canadian employers can save more than $10,000 per year for each two-day-a-week telecommuter in their workforce. The savings come from increased productivity, reduced real estate costs and lower absenteeism and turnover.
When Yahoo’s memo to employees about the banning of telecommuting went viral earlier this week, it had many questioning why this tech company is making such a bold move.
“I can see why she’s doing it,” says Kim Siddell, principal with AQ Group Solutions, about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to call all employees back into the office. “From a competitive standpoint, they don’t need to offer it. It’s not part of the culture in Silicon Valley. It may seem out of step with greater trends, but I don’t think it’s out of step with their industry.”
The internal memo that was sent to employees stated, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”
While that may be true within the Yahoo organization, telecommuting tends to increase employee productivity and increase job satisfaction. A 2010 survey by Telus Communications, Inc. found that 56% of respondents thought ﬂexible work options would motivate them to work harder.
Mark Nichols, head of consulting at Metalab, says that allowing staff to work remotely is encouraged when it means attracting the right people. “We hire people based on talent but also based on their personality,” he says, explaining that making someone come into an office where he or she might be miserable goes against the merits of why that person was hired in the first place.
Almost all Metalab employees do work in the company’s Victoria-based two-storey office, but Nichols says it’s by choice. “We’ve had employees who worked remotely, but then when they came to the office they liked it so much, they [relocated].”
Telecommuting can work for employees who don’t need much supervision, are self-motivated, mature and in roles that requires little collaboration. “There’s always the fear that you’re being taken advantage of as an employer,” says Nichols, but there’s a responsibility on the employer’s side as much as on the employee side to make telework arrangements functional. Mainly, the relationship (like most) needs to be built on mutual trust.
He acknowledged that working out of the typical office environment can be a challenge for some people and that for those in brainstorming roles, telecommuting typically isn’t ideal.
While there are bonuses to telecommuting for both employee and employer, Siddell says, the vibe within the organization can suffer with a large number of out-of-office workers. “Telecommuters don’t contribute very much to a company’s culture,” say Siddell.
If improving company culture is what Yahoo feels it needs to do in order to turn the company around, then stopping its work-from-home practices makes sense.
“Instituting this move isn’t going to be popular among employees,” says Siddell, adding that the tech company has a reputation of having “bloated infrastructure.” Maybe this is Mayer’s way of decreasing head count without making layoffs—those types of reductions would be counterproductive to a company trying to gain market position.
Siddell says that employees who are used to telecommuting are significantly less productive when put back into a traditional work environment. Steven Ruth—in his white paper “The Dark Side of Telecommuting—Is a Tipping Point Approaching?”—concurs with this and cites a number of studies that say the same thing.
As it stands, the majority of Canadian organizations that offer true telecommuting (working outside the office at least twice a week on a regular basis) do so on an accommodation/solution basis rather than under an overaching company policy.
“Employers [in Canada] tend to turn to telecommuting to help people, rather than have them take a leave…to take care of an aging parent, for example.”
A 2009 study from Towers Watson found that among companies that have tried to reduce work/life conflict, 84% say telecommuting has had a positive impact.
When done properly, and with the right segment of your employee population, telecommuting can win employers brownie points. This probably isn’t going to happen in Yahoo’s situation, but Mayer didn’t become CEO by making off-the-cuff decisions.