In a speech at the Great Place to Work conference last week, Yahoo CEO
Marissa Mayer told attendees that her company's decision to end telecommuting was "wrongly perceived as an industry narrative."
Even so, Yahoo's February announcement that it was ending its telecommuting option was followed by news in March that Best Buy was also ending the practice for employees at its
In her remarks Mayer acknowledged that workers seem to be more productive when they work alone, but they're also more isolated, and isolation isn't what
Yahoo needs at the moment.
"Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together," she said.
Research seems to bear her assertions out. A recent survey from market research firm USamp found that 67 percent of professionals feel more productive when
working from home, while 69 percent feel more liberated. The sample was split almost evenly between agreement, disagreement, and neutrality over whether
telecommuting tends to isolate workers.
So is telecommuting worth it? Ragan.com asked execs at two companies that offer telecommuting whether they think so.
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Rod Hughes, vice president of Kimball Communications in Easton, Pa., says everyone in his office telecommutes at least some of the time. He telecommutes
two days a week, for example, and one employee lives in Charleston, S.C., and therefore does not come into the office.
"We do this because the employment talent pool shouldn't be limited by geography," he says. "We want to work with great people, and our company philosophy
embraces the fact these great people might not always be within a reasonable commute to our main office."
The staff meets virtually using Skype, he says, and often connects via text messages and emails.
Nikki Wheeler, senior manager of global communications at medical technology firm Terumo BCT, says her company is planning to implement a flexible
workplace initiative next month. It will include what she calls "hotelling," in which employees reserve workspaces for the days they'll be in the office.
Employees are also invited to offer feedback on the company's "drop-in" workspace and share the impact that space has had on their productivity.
Communicating the policy
Yahoo announced its telecommuting reversal with a memo; Best Buy announced its change publicly. As it shifts to a highly regimented telecommuting
environment, Terumo BCT has done a lot of legwork to inform its employees, from top to bottom.
The process started with a steering committee more than a year ago, Wheeler says. That committee recommended it to the executive team, then discussed it
with senior leaders. The new program was communicated to managers, and then it went to associates.
Managers have their own expectations for how employees will perform in the new setting, Wheeler says.
"In group settings, we've communicated the expectations, and then in one-to-one discussion we've reviewed those expectations," she says.
At Kimball, which is considerably smaller than Terumo BCT (it has about six employees to Terumo's 4,500), the process is much less formal. As long as the
goal of exceeding client expectations is met, things are good.
"We work with professionals who understand PR isn't a 9-to-5 job, and we all recognize that results are the priority," he says.
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Weighing collaboration and productivity
Like Mayer, Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune
collaboration was the main reason behind ending its telecommuting program.
"It's 'all hands on deck' at Best Buy, and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our
business," he said.
According to Hughes, maintaining a sense of community been the biggest difficulty for Kimball.
"As a manager, you have to be disciplined to make sure everyone is involved and feels connected to the work and the team," he says. "You don't want your
culture to start or stop at the office door."
Still, Hughes says the benefits outweigh that potential cost, in that it's easier to be a 24-hour operation.
"The advantages we've noted most include being able to start the day sooner, with no commute time, and respond to breaking news opportunities later because
we're accustomed to operating seamlessly outside of the office environment," he says.
That's especially true with employees carrying iPads and iPhones most of the time, Hughes says.
Likewise, Wheeler says cutting out commute times a few days a week will make Terumo BCT a more appealing workplace.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.