The recent news about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting from home has caused some debate in the media. Can companies remain productive when many employees are working from home, away from the office? In one unofficial report, Mayer decided to pull the plug on telecommuting after looking at the VPN logs of employees. VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is how employees securely connect to company networks while working remotely. The decision was made to ban telecommuting after finding that many employees weren’t logging in enough.
In the last few years I’ve had some experience with telecommuting. I don’t do it on a full-time basis, but given my work situation, I’m able to work remotely, or telecommute a few times per week. I’ve found there are benefits and drawbacks to telecommuting for both the employee and company based on my personal experience.
Benefits of Telecommuting
Work – Life – Balance
There is a tremendous amount of work-life-balance for me when I’m able to telecommute. I’m able to reclaim at least one hour of my day to be home and around my family instead of commuting to our downtown office. I think this provides a healthier lifestyle for employees and is an attractive benefit companies can discuss in their recruiting efforts.
There is definitely cost savings for companies that move to a telecommuting model. It’s likely the company won’t require as much office overhead in terms of real estate space and office equipment. Some companies choose to pay for office related supplies and equipment for home offices, but I think the real estate savings alone could be worth it.
Personally, I have found I can be more productive at home because there are fewer office distractions. Assuming you have a quiet work space, you can really focus on the work at hand without being interrupted by someone talking on the phone in the cubicle next to you, or by someone driving by your desk unannounced for a chat.
Drawbacks of Telecommuting
With fewer drive by visits at cubicles, conversations in the break room, and no in-person meetings in conference rooms, I feel there is definitely a drop in team cohesiveness and building strong relationships. Small talk helps and even the occasional lunch with work associates where you get to know people you’re working with, helps build trust and good working relationships. This is much more difficult to do working remotely. I’ve found conference calls get right down to business.
Not Everyone Can Handle It
It’s true that not everyone can handle telecommuting. A great office employee may not necessarily be good at working from home. At the very least, it requires someone who is a self-starter and organized. Also, not everyone has a good work environment from home, or can manage their work hours appropriately. Some people work too little without supervision and some go in the opposite direction and over work themselves, not knowing when to turn off their computers and transition to personal time.
Aside from building strong team relationships, it’s important to be seen. In my situation, most of the people I work with are in an entirely different state. It’s important that I see these people from time to time, as well as our leadership. I don’t think it’s ever a good for your face to be forgotten. You’ll never get face time with department leaders or internal customers if you can’t visit them in the office, or travel to see them occasionally.
I’m in support of telecommuting. I think it can work for both the business and employees. However, many companies take a willy-nilly approach. There isn’t enough forethought and work to ensure telecommuting is successful for both parties.
I’m in favor of allowing company telecommuting a couple days out of the week. This alone can make a big difference in employee moral and work-life-balance. I don’t think telecommuting has to be an all or nothing approach. The company can cut costs, but also benefit from stronger team benefits too with a hybrid approach.
Companies might consider a hoteling approach to work spaces where there are no permanent assignments unless you’re in the office 100% of the time. By hoteling, I mean employees can make reservations for their space when coming to the office. This requires some careful study by the operations group to determine the work space needs. Certainly, you don’t want a shortage of work spaces when people do come to the office.
What are your thoughts on telecommuting from home or working in a traditional office?