Should They Stay or Should They Go: Yahoo and the Question of Telecommuting

By Tim Pate

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
Image credit: Wikipedia commons

One of the most discussed stories in the business world revolves around what seems on its face exceptionally mundane: a boss wants her employees to work in the office. However, when Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, tells some employees that they can no longer work from home, a palpable buzz rises in the business community. Why is that?

Globally, the traditional expectation that employees conduct their work in the office is decreasing. From private corporations to government agencies, the percentage of companies adopting telecommuting business practices is rising. The reasoning for this shift is varied; some argue that telecommuting increases worker productivity and creativity, that it increases employee retention, or that it accommodates employees whose schedules may not cater to the 9-to-5 workday. China even implemented a telecommuting program in Hubei in an effort to decrease carbon emissions.

The drawback, of course, is that employees who work at home have much less supervision and are therefore more susceptible to distractions and incomplete work. And in fact, this was the problem Mayer faced when she investigated the work of her telecommuting employees.

After spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo parking lots were, Mayer consulted Yahoo’s VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough.

Mayer discovered they were not — and her decision was made.

Suzanne Lucas of Inc. believes that it is still possible to have success with telecommuting employees. In a recent article on Inc.com, Lucas outlines five questions employers should ask to determine if they should allow telecommuting:

1. Am I the kind of manager that can judge performance on results only?

2. Can the work be, reasonably, done from home?

3. Are your employees already doing a considerable amount of work from home?

4. Do they have a desire to work from home?

5. Will you be able to meet all legal requirements?

Employees should also be thoughtful in determining whether they want to work for a company that allows or encourages telecommuting. Here are five questions I believe one should ask themselves before seeking employment that allows at-home work:

1. Do you prefer the structure working in an office provides, or would you rather build your own schedule?

2. Can you reasonably complete work in your desired field from home?

3. Are you able to effectively manage distractions and complete work on time?

4. How will you remotely manage potential problems that arise with your projects?

5. What benefits will working from home allow you?

I am happy to come to the office for my position with the College of Business. The location offers close proximity to the classrooms I attend after work in the morning, I enjoy the company of my co-workers, my supervisors are nearby to assist me when I have questions, and being in the office helps me concentrate solely on work while ignoring other obligations I will have later in the day. If I worked with another company in a different capacity, my preferences could change. But it is important to remember that the choice between telecommuting and working in an office is not a one-size-fits-all question for companies across the board.

Do you prefer working in the office or from home? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below, and let us know why one or the other works better for you. 

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