Last updated: March 06. 2013 12:04AM - 1303 Views

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A surprising CEO memo has put telecommuting under the workplace microscope again.


Happy home-based employees are aghast at what seems to be a turn-back-the-clock move by Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer, who has summoned the company’s telecommuters into the office by June.


There’s no doubt that the occasional work-at-home practice is a fabulous option for workers who can work remotely. But several studies give Mayer the benefit of the doubt, saying full-time remote work might not be the right choice for organizations or employees.


One issue, Kansas City, Mo., economist Chris Kuehl recently told business clients, is management and control.


Organizations with remote workers can do well when the jobs have clear definitions and deadlines, and when managers have the means to monitor productivity. Organizations do less well with a scattered workforce when the jobs call for collaboration or quick reaction.


In the latter case, Kuehl said, it’s “far easier” for managers “to have people where they can see them.”


The Yahoo letter didn’t address hands-on supervision. Rather, it called for more spontaneous interaction — a quality difficult to nurture with far-flung employees.


Still, Yahoo’s back-to-the-office edict was ironic in that it came from an information technology company whose very products helped make remote work as sophisticated and widespread as it’s grown to be. Further irony comes from Mayer’s well-known status as a new mother.


Jordan Cohen, a “knowledge worker productivity expert” at PA Consulting Group, cautions against making the Yahoo order into a trend or a broad indictment of telecommuting. Take it in isolation, he said, as “a signal that the company is suffering.”


And it’s possible that management has failed to correctly diagnose the problem.


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