Monday, March 04, 2013
The trending workplace story last week originated with an internal memo
sent to Yahoo employees by Marissa Mayer. In her message, the CEO basically eliminated her company’s remote workforce policy and questioned the value of letting employees work from home. The outcry from those inside and outside the high-tech community has been quite animated, with many suggesting that increased face-to-face interaction will not be the magic bullet that solves Yahoo’s problems.
The telecommuting policy reversal by Mayer also goes against a prevailing business trend, as more and more organizations allow and even encourage their employees to work from home. The growth of pro-remote office strategies is likely fueled by the benefits it offers companies that implement them, from the larger pool of talent they can draw from to reduced commercial real estate costs.
Mayer’s announcement came in the run-up to Telework Week, an annual initiative encouraging government agencies, businesses and individuals to pledge to telework. Taking place this week and now in its third year, Telework Week is organized by Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the value of telework, and endorsed by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), author of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010.
How prevalent is telecommuting today? “Research shows that 43 percent of companies focus on employees working from home as part of their mobility strategy,” said Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis for CompTIA. While many are vilifying Yahoo’s CEO for her actions, she expressed real concern that a successful turnaround for the company could not happen without a shakeup in the way they do business. No one is entitled to work remote – unless it’s a specific contractual obligation that both parties agreed to – but removing a long-standing privilege or policy that the workforce enjoys is sure to cause some pain. Yahoo will likely lose some of it valued employees over the change, though it could also see an uptick in overall performance from others.
That’s a gamble that Mayer was willing to make, which will surely be judged differently by employees, stockholders and a variety of business and IT industry pundits. If Yahoo revenue increases and the stock values rise over the long term, some business executives will likely use the case as justification for maintaining or implementing their own “no telecommuting” policies.
Some reports suggest that Yahoo wasn’t doing a great job of managing its remote workers and that many were abusing the privilege, which may explain the “poor performance” cited by unnamed company executives attempting to justify the move. Of course, the company could have gained more favor with its employees (and the press) by performing an “extreme makeover” of its telecommuting policies, such as implementing new performance measures and greater management controls. Remote workers could have conformed to the amended guidelines or found employment elsewhere, and the press would never have had such a field day with Yahoo’s management team.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, may have said it best in his blog post
concerning the Yahoo news. “We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.”
Of course, telecommuting isn’t a great option for every company or every person. It would be difficult for a brick-and-mortar retailer or manufacturing plant to offer the option to all of their workers, though it may be an option for some members of their support staff. Each organization has to determine the policies – including those related to telecommuting – that best enable them to achieve their short- and long-term objectives. Companies typically alter their workplace rules over time to meet a variety of societal, business and technology changes – and small businesses often struggle with how to make those adjustments.
That’s an opportunity for a well-versed unified communications (UC) and mobility consultant. Remote worker programs require a lot of planning before they can be implemented, with considerations here ranging from which employees will qualify for it to the security measures and technology requirements that must be used. With a solid knowledge of telecommuting policy best practices and technologies, solution providers can help ease that process by offering the assessment, design, implementation and support services needed to make these programs pay off.
The plethora of smartphone and tablet technologies available creates more remote office options and challenges for the business community, which also increases the value of consultants with superior mobile skills. “Forty percent of the businesses surveyed for our upcoming study are constructing formal mobility policies—a good step towards the creation of solid remote office guidelines,” Robinson said. “And 25 percent of these companies provide no official mobility training to their employees, so solution providers with training experience could step in to fill that gap.”
While the telecommuting policy at Yahoo may be history, it’s not a sign of what’s to come in other businesses. If anything, this one high-profile incident seems to be spurring remote workforce best practice discussions, which solution providers could use to their advantage for engaging clients and prospects. Brian Sherman is founder of Tech Success Communications, specializing in editorial content and consulting for the IT channel. His previous roles include chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.