“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”[1]

When Yahoo Chief Development Officer Jackie Reses issued this memo in February of 2013, the high-tech workforce collectively raised an eyebrow. One of the world’s leading Internet technology companies was all but eliminating the option of telecommuting for its worldwide employees. How could executive leadership believe this policy change would be well received in the age of an increasingly mobile workforce, particularly in Silicon Valley?

Well, Reses and CEO Marissa Mayer had their reasons – reasons that were apparently convincing enough for Hewlett-Packard and Best Buy to follow suit soon after with their own restrictions on remote work. What these companies noticed was that the precedent of telecommuting was leaving offices at half-capacity on any given day. Face-to-face interaction with colleagues and managers would be few and far between, and the spirit of collaboration really couldn’t be effectively maintained over conference calls and shared screens. A remote workforce cannot reach its potential and deliver innovation to the best of its ability – or so Yahoo argued.

It’s safe to say not everyone took to this argument as well as Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, and Hubert Joly, CEO of Best Buy. Least receptive were the Millennial generation, who are becoming an increasingly large part of the workforce. Flexibility in workspace and hours is a must for many young professionals, and they won’t have trouble finding an employer who will meet that need among today’s startups.

Better work-life success, broader recruitment possibilities, and lower turnover are reasons commonly cited in support of workplace flexibility. Additionally, employees working from home often end up engaged around the clock, increasing productivity long past or prior to typical working hours. In many cases, it seems, this kind of flexibility can define or strengthen company culture, and it be a valuable tool for recruiters to offer to potential candidates.

Both sides have convincing arguments, and research hasn’t been helpful in swaying the workforce to buy into one over the other. According to the National Workplace Flexibility Study, workplace flexibility doesn’t have a negative impact on business.[2] Team communication and productivity were often improved among teams who have the option of working from home.

However, Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that those employees who spend less that 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged, suggesting that working remotely for more than half of the week may, in fact, have a negative impact on employee productivity. [3]

What may be the best takeaway from this analysis is that telecommuting can have its flaws (particularly if taken advantage of too often), but unlike Yahoo and others suggest, this doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing scenario. There’s an undeniable need for workplace flexibility, but employers could benefit from striking a balance with time spent in the office and at home. Like with most things, it seems moderation may be the key.

[1] Swisher, K., “Physically Together’: Here’s the Internal Yahoo No-Work-From-Home Memo for Remote Workers and Maybe More,” 2013.


[2] Cavanaugh, K., Franoe, J.S., & Kacher, K., “National Workplace Flexibility Study,” 2015. http://nebula.wsimg.com/37b626a9f7e6b1763182996520c4e876?AccessKeyId=C35ABFD395C6B39BAA6C&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

[3]  Gallup, “State of the American Workplace,” 2014. http://www.gallup.com/services/178514/state-american-workplace.aspx

02 July 2015

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