Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ignited a furor early this year when she sent a memo to employees announcing the end of the company’s work-from-home policy. Although the memo appeared to be aimed at those employees who work at home full time, it sparked numerous discussions about the benefits and drawbacks of remote work and the struggle for work/life balance.
Telecommuting has clearly been on the increase in recent years. According to the 2012 National Study of Employers, conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management and the Families & Work Institute, 63 percent of employers allow their employees to work from home at least occasionally, which is up from just 34 percent in 2005. And 85 of Fortune magazine’s 2012 “100 Best Companies to Work For” allow telecommuting at least 20 percent of the time.
In her memo, Mayer emphasized the importance of communication and collaboration, which requires that employees work “side-by-side.” As a working mother, Mayer’s stance has received even greater scrutiny. Many working parents view the ability to telecommute as essential, while others argue that an employee’s family situation should have no bearing on the decision to allow work from home.
Mayer’s defenders believe her edict comes down to productivity – if she has found that her best performers are those who work in the office, it is her prerogative to increase value for the company and make everyone work in the office. In addition, in her role as the company’s leader, it behooves her to challenge her employees to become more productive; in this case, that means challenging them to be better collaborators. A company’s leader needs to both empower the employees and hold them accountable. Any company practice that is unproductive should be discarded. There is also an argument that having all employees in the office promotes flexibility in job roles because of increased communication and collaboration among employees.
But critics of Mayer’s stance have been vociferous. In addition to arguments for families and the need for a work/life balance, many people believe they actually are more productive when they work from home. To some employees, being at home might make them more susceptible to distractions; but to others, the office brings more distractions because the employee is unable to control the environment like he can at home. Banning telecommuting takes away an employee’s ability to manage his workspace.
Other critics cite the ecological benefits of working from home. Cutting down on commuting time reduces environmental footprints and allows more time to be productive. There are also fewer costs for employees when it comes to dry cleaning, work clothes or money spent going out to lunch.
Then there is the question of company loyalty. If an employee is allowed to work from home, is that employee happier and therefore more dedicated to the company, or does the employee who is absent from the office lose camaraderie with coworkers and his commitment to the company and its corporate culture?
The bottom line is that businesses must be managed based on results. Work arrangements should fit the needs of all the parties involved, so a balance must be struck between the control that employers want and the flexibility desired by employees. A discussion with a professional can help find that balance to create a productive work environment with high employee morale.