There has been much in the news lately about Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, who decided to end the practice of employees working from home. She felt that the employees were taking advantage of this alterative way of working so she wanted them back sitting at a desk.
Although this appears counter intuitive to the latest trends of many corporations, she does make a few good points. She argues, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.”
The real issue is that Ms. Mayer is, like most large corporate and government decisions, using a “one size fits all” approach to remedy an issue with the level of productivity of a few employees.
Years ago I was involved in a “work from home” pilot with a large corporation. In approximate numbers, what we found was that productivity went up significantly for over 35 per cent of the people who participated in this program.
Yes, we discovered they were not always sitting at their desks during standard working hours. We also found that co-workers and clients would often receive emails from these same employees at midnight, or on a Saturday afternoon, because a solution to a particular problem or an idea came to them at that time.
Productivity of some of the participants did not change. So for these individuals, we set up a specific working process which included them following a regimen that would emulate what they would do if commuting to the office.
This involved taking a shower, wearing business attire, having their home office separate from all living areas, and even saying goodbye to their kids when they went into their office. In addition to overall improved productivity (and reduced carbon footprint) was that morale also improved.
For about one third of the people the home office model did not work well, even after intervention. These individuals had a strong need for the routine and discipline the office provided. They required interaction with colleagues for their problem-solving and craved the daily social networking.
I believe Ms. Mayer of Yahoo is implementing a broad-based solution to a problem that is real, but specific to a smaller percentage of workers. This may be detrimental over the long-term for many reasons.
In the past I have written about the many benefits of telecommuting. In addition to the general increased productivity and morale, here are a few others.
— Less stress and an improved work-life balance;
— Higher levels of creativity when not in the clamor of the office;
— Health benefits: people experience less stress and lower blood pressure. Other studies have shown that it leads to better eating and exercise habits during the day that contribute to weight management and less absenteeism from sickness;
— Reduced need for expensive, urban office space and parking;
— Saving as high as 200 commuting hours each year. That equates to over four weeks working time;
— Direct savings include lower insurance rates, fuel and maintenance costs. One estimate says that in the USA alone, if just 25 per cent of workers telecommuted, they could reduce dependency on foreign oil by almost one third.
Unfortunately, I believe that a lack of trust in employees was a factor in the Yahoo decision. As Richard Branson of Virgin wrote; “To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. Working life isn’t 9 to 5 anymore. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.”
Rather than needing to witness activity, if managers would establish specific goals and measurements, processes for communication, and then pay for output, they would know if someone was being productive or not, regardless of where the employee was physically sitting.
My question for managers this week: “Do you understand what working styles best suit your employees for productivity, and have you explored different working models that could improve your organization’s service, efficiency and cost structure?”
Joseph Sherren, CSP, HoF, is Canada’s management effectiveness expert who works with organizations to maximize the performance of their leaders, increase employee morale, and improve bottom line results. For information regarding our workshops, please call (902) 367-7789.