When does telecommuting work well, and how can we make it more effective?

Marissa MayerThe newest occupant of the corner office at Yahoo made a tough and surprising call a couple of weeks ago when she put an end to telecommuting.  Despite being new to the company and expecting her first child, Marissa Mayer has evidently taken a hard look at how things work at beleaguered Yahoo and decided the work at home option that so many of her employees had chosen may be more of a problem than a solution.   Learn why columnist Anne-Marie Slaughter in her recent article in the Atlantic thinks that Marissa Mayer’s Job is to be CEO, Not Make Life Easier for Working Moms.”    This article, unsurprisingly, prompted not a little controversy.  (Check out the numerous comments at the end of the article for an interesting discussion.)Yahoo

best buyWithin a couple of days of the Yahoo announcement, Best Buy’s new CEO, Hubert Joly, made the same call by putting an end to the practice of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) that Best Buy had popularized, and which allowed employees to work at home as long as they were achieving their objectives. The new Best Buy policy does allow for some telecommuting exceptions at management’s discretion.

During my one-to-one coaching sessions with my Vistage CEO Peer Group members, I have found a wide range of opinions on this.  Some say this totally validates their distrust of work at home policies.  Others recognize that they have scores of geographically distributed people productively working out of their homes, and that centrally locating these people is not feasible or desirable.  In either case, telecommuting is probably not going away entirely, and we need to better understand in what situations it works and how we can make it more effective.

That is where you come in. So kind readers, please reply to this post with your comments.

feedback wantedIn your experience when has telecommuting worked well? When has it failed?  What are some best practices you have put in place to make it better? 

I am looking for your brief observations and quick stories of a paragraph or less in length. In a couple of weeks I’ll summarize your answers and add some insights of my own on how to get the most out of telecommuting.  Thank you for participating!

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3 responses to “When does telecommuting work well, and how can we make it more effective?

  1. Telecommuting is a tool and like all tools at times it can be leveraged to increase or bring about better results. Business tools that allow freedom though can also be taken of and we need to be aware of but not expect that this will happen. Telecommuting for some may allow them to work in an environment that fosters their best and most creative work. For others the distractions might be too overwhelming and their work may suffer. In both cases, there must be a degree where the supervisor is still in control and can bring that employee back into the workplace in order to facilitate better results, or upon seeing creativity and results flourish let that employee continue to work at home.

    In the case of Yahoo, it seems it was about results at first but I believe it was also something more. There really isn’t anything that can replace good old face to face brainstorming with your peers. Locked in a conference room, with takeout boxes strewn across the conference table and so many diagrams on the white board that it’s hard to remember where each one came from. With video chatting available in many forms this can be done remotely when necessary, but I do feel that there is an energy that is lacking. At a time when Yahoo is desperate to appear poised for a turn around it needs that energy.

  2. I believe telecommuting is most successful for both employees and managers when it is a conversation. In a company headquarters environment, it is important to be in the office more often than not, but a little flexibility on the part of management can go a long way in gaining loyalty and productivity from employees. I think Best Buy makes a good point in changing their ROWE policy – it sounds like they are making telecommuting options a conversation between management and their employees rather than a guaranteed right. I also believe that Marissa Meyer is doing what she needs to do to try and turn around a company that has been doing terribly – if “all hands on deck” might stop the ship from sinking than it is worth a try!

  3. Telecommuting can work well, but think it all depends on the individual and the role. If they have proven their ability to drive results in the office, are reliable, and communicate well they could be a great candidate for telecommuting. There should be clear parameters in place in these arrangements – regular 1:1s, metrics, days expected to be onsite, proof of daycare/nanny etc. Flexibility is an attractive and underestimated benefit – especially to working mothers. Personally, as long as a new role was a great fit and career potential was promising I would be willing to make a horizontal move or even accept a lower salary if some degree of telecommuting was involved. Also don’t think it would have to be all one or the other. 3 days in the office, 2 days remote, or 5 hours in the office 4 days a week etc. could provide the benefits of both sides as long as parameters are in place to monitor performance.

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