The Rise of Telecommuting Still Faces Corporate Resistance

Telecommuting is here to stay – and should be considered the norm wherever possible.  Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, made waves with the telecommuting community this week when she decreed that all remote workers would now have to work in an office – or quit. This makes her the poster child of corporate resistance to the idea of telecommuting.

It’s not uncommon for companies to resist allowing workers to telecommute, even a few days a week. The corporation has valid, but addressable, concerns about time management, productivity, corporate intelligence leaks, and quality and quantity of work delivered on company time. In some cases, corporations balk at the idea of remote workers from a company culture standpoint – “without the traditional water cooler moments, endless meetings, and plenty of face time, remote workers can never truly feel like part of the company they work for,” companies argue. Setting aside the real possibility that Yahoo is using this as a cost reduction move (stealth terminations – it’s easier to have people quit than to hand out severance and go through the usual legal ramifications of firing someone) because that, in my opinion, is a whole other topic entirely, let’s take a moment to examine the idea of remote work.

I see clear benefits to a remote workforce. Less traffic, less impact on the environment, and lower corporate costs (no need for the office, utilities or the equipment in the office) all come to mind immediately. Happier workers allowed to work with more flexibility are more loyal to the companies they work for that allow them that freedom, trust and flexibility. Remote workers allow a company to have a presence in a new city without the cost of a new office. Remote workers with children are able to be more involved in their children’s lives and schoolwork and avoid high cost of child care in many cases. In fact, some have posited that Mayer’s move at Yahoo is a direct slap in the face to working parents at the company, and mentioned the bad example it sets for her corporate culture, especially in light of the bar potentially set by her short maternity leave.

Even in the face of incredible benefit to the remote worker and the company, a company may wonder how to keep remote workers not only on task, but feeling a part of the team. The advent of social tools and “cloud” computing tools, from Salesforce with Chatter and programs like gTalk and Hipchat all the way to collaborative tools like gDocs and others makes this easy. Virtual meetings using Google Hangouts, Skype or Go to Meeting with HD video all provide much needed face time, with a side benefit of encouraging brevity in meetings. Employees can even be flown out to the corporate office for real face time once a month with no loss in savings to the company over all.

With all of the benefits associated with a productive and loyal remote work force, it’s difficult to see why some companies still balk at the concept.  Certainly not every job can be remote, but such a vast number can be that it makes no sense in this changing age of work to insist on an employee being a cubicle jockey during a set time period each day.

Do you have remote workers? Has it increased productivity? How is it working for you? What are some of the tips you have for others who want to move into the future of work and start allowing employees to work remotely some or all of the time?

6 Responses

  1. I work from home for one of the four main broadcast tv networks, and many people on our tech team work from home. We’re connected via IM, email, phone, Google Hangouts, and and WebEx. We work very hard to earn and keep the benefit of working from home. We’re trusted to manage our time and hit our deadlines, and it works! I’ve only known of one employee in my four years there who had the privilege revoked, because they weren’t skilled at managing their productivity away from the office. The upshot is, happier, loyal employees, and the company saves a ton on overhead costs. This article wonderfully describes the mutual benefits of working remotely.

  2. Well said Leslie. I’ve had the option to work remote in a variety of roles (at different companies) since 1995 and have worked from home exclusively at certain points. I think the benefits of telecommuting are clear–can’t help feeling like this is a not so subtle way to try and force attrition without taking the hit of “downsizing”.