Ever since the U.S. Congress passed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, the federal government has attempted to implement telework where advisable and efficient. The concept (also known as telecommuting) was undertaken to enhance the work/life effectiveness of employees without hindering their efficiency.
Now the whole concept of working from home has come under question by one of the world’s largest technology-based private companies, Yahoo.
Late last month, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer issued an in-house edict ordering all employees back into the office. In an atmosphere of growing public concern with the efficiency of the federal government, she may have unwittingly opened the door for telework to come under closer scrutiny and possibly debate.
Dr. Mary C. Kelly, a productivity expert, says the issue comes down to accountability and leadership.
“If managers and supervisors are doing their jobs by keeping their employees accountable, then telecommuting is a non-issue,” says Kelly, an economist and leadership coach. “Mayer should set the expectations, give managers the authority to take action for non-productive employees, and reward the people who are producing great results.
“Telecommuting is cost-effective and remarkably efficient if key components of accountability, trust and performance are in place.”
Collaborating and interfacing online works. Indeed, there are lots of good reasons to allow telecommuting, like saving on real estate and office costs, lower contribution to burning carbon-based fuels, allowing flexibility where it’s sometimes necessary, and cutting down all the wasted time behind a steering wheel going to and from the workplace.
But admittedly, telework cannot always provide as many opportunities for spirited conversations in the office environment. The off-the-wall, brainstorming, team-building conversations that Mayer deems necessary for Yahoo’s success are definitely more likely to occur in face-to-face encounters than online.
So managers of telecommuters need to make sure that the work is completed, and that telecommuters are as much a part of the work team as those who physically show up. Meanwhile, employees need to guard against the out-of-sight-out-of-mind syndrome. There may be a perception that working from home involves long naps and extensive gym time, so employees have to work to reassure managers with meeting deadlines, delivering results and effectively communicating.
“Yahoo’s teleworking decision overly simplifies the issue of how we work in a distributed, connected and agile world with a changing labor market and work/life balances,” observes Elliott Masie, chair of The Learning Consortium and host of the Telework 2013 conference. “I respect Yahoo’s CEO Mayer for her leadership of the company and would hope that she shifts the conversation to the culture rather than locational issue.”
“Employees have to understand that working from home seems like a great option, especially for those caring for another person, but it is still a job,” Kelly adds. “Part of doing a job well means being responsive to their supervisors or company requests for information (which was the catalyst for Yahoo) and fulfilling all requirements of that position.”
Telecommuting also means employees still need to show up for meetings, answer client questions, perform site visits, and be present any time the boss asks.
“People who have not been doing their jobs should be counseled, put on improvement plans, or released,” Kelly concludes. “Great workers will be wildly productive wherever they are. Poor workers will not.”