Yahoo misses an opportunity by banning telecommuting

March 21, 2013 / by / 0 Comment
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Yahoo’s recent decision to ban telecommuting, led by their new CEO Marissa Mayer, has had repercussions far beyond Yahoo. The move has opened up a broader discussion about the entire trend, and whether it is beneficial or not. Tech companies in particular have embraced the model, but there is still some wisdom in the thought that casual, face-to-face contact certainly can’t be bad for one’s career.

The discussion is missing out on the obvious. Telecommuting no longer involves sitting at home at a computer, and sending over files via email every now and then. The level of communication that is now possible has raised the bar, and telecommuters can easily take part in web conferences and video conferences, use tools like Salesforce Chatter to stay up to date minute-by-minute, and use web-based project management tools like SkylightIT to stay on top of who’s doing what.

Short-sighted bosses see remote work as a situation that eliminates their ability to control employees, rather than an opportunity to allow them to be more productive. Still others make the mistake of seeing it as a model that cuts the remote workers off from the herd and stops their career growth in its tracks.

We asked CEOs from some of the leading companies offering tools that enhance the telecommuting experience:

“How is modern technology enhancing the telecommuting experience, and bringing remote workers back into the day-to-day loop? Can remote employees remain productive, make a contribution to the company, and participate socially just as if they were in a corner office?”

Dan-WaldingerDan Waldinger, Director of Marketing, Solutions & Services

Brother Online

 

“Telework goes mobile. While telework typically equates to working from home, many teleworkers visit client sites and must be able to seamlessly access data and communicate with team members from mobile devices. In fact, according to a 2012 Check Point survey, more than three-quarters of the respondents said more than twice as many personal devices are connecting to corporate networks now, compared to two years ago. It’s important for teleworkers to use mobile apps that connect to company infrastructure to ensure they have everything they need to be successful.”Security is not just for the IT department. With all of the cyberattacks that have been in the news, companies need to be extra careful about the documents that are accessed outside of the firewall. A 2012 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 82% of data breaches were due to staff errors, such as mobile devices that are lost or stolen with unprotected with proprietary data still on them. Teleworkers should talk with their employers to create a secure connection to the company infrastructure in order to access secure documents from home.”Don’t get lost in online translation. Teleworkers need to feel like they are on the same page as their coworkers. Sometimes this can be complicated by email, instant messages and texts—forms of communication that don’t always get the full point (or sarcasm) across. Teleworkers should have video web conferencing technology readily available for meetings to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.”

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Larry Ponemon

Ponemon Institute

“With modern technology, virtually anyone can access content remotely from the cloud. Furthermore, the “consumerization” of employee devices helps people access company files and documents on personal phones or computers, thus keeping them in touch with the office no matter where they are.”In light of the controversial Marissa Mayer ban on telecommuting, we have to take a look at productivity and how best to utilize the value time of our workforce. A productive worker that is attentive and responsive in a remote environment will make more of a contribution to a company than a worker that is disgruntled and unhappy as a result of being called back into the office. Companies must take necessary precautions and equip workers with tools and knowledge to make telecommuting a positive experience both for the employer and the employee.”Often overlooked by today’s mobile workforce is the importance of safeguarding confidential data from prying eyes. Whether in an airport or the local coffee shop, merely having confidential information on a screen puts a company at risk and according to a recent study commissioned by 3M we did at Ponemon Institute, has implications on productivity. The 3M Visual Privacy Productivity Study, found that workers are 50% less productive when they feel their privacy is at risk. In this experiment, employees with visual privacy chose to work 44% of the time compared to 22% of the time for those without a 3M privacy filter. The reason for the increased productivity? They did not worry about the prying eyes that might see confidential information. This small investment, combined with education on company policies for handling sensitive information, may reap big productivity gains without demanding that workers return to the office.”

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Veronica Culver, Director of Corporate Marketing

KBZ

“The recent Yahoo mandate sparked outrage from defenders of Telecommuting who showed how passionately this work shift has been embraced over the last 20 years, as well as how effectively they are able to connect, collaborate and communicate with their counterparts using advances in technology that are readily available today.”As a Cisco Distributor, KBZ offers the highest quality video conferencing, web conferencing and collaboration technologies available which allow employees in just about any job role to very effectively collaborate, as if they were sitting side-by-side in the same room.”At KBZ, my colleagues and I – located in cities around the U.S. – hold all of our meetings using video conferencing. We conduct marketing brainstorming sessions, sales strategy meetings, customer and partner meetings, and routine daily check-ins over video. Throughout our day, we’re constantly in touch over IM, video, email and sometimes even the old-fashioned way…over a mobile device.”Effective and regular collaboration and communication are the keys to our success. We can hold an impromptu meeting by quickly checking to see if the people needed are online then adding them to a video conference call – much better than having to pack up our laptops and relocate to a central meeting space or conference room. It’s a fast, easy and highly effective way to get things done.”


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John Meyer, Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Arise Virtual Solutions, Inc.

“The issue isn’t that telecommuting doesn’t work, it’s that in order to be successful, companies need to do three things: 1) Have the right caliber of people to start with, 2) Have well defined metrics to gauge their success, and 3) Put practices in place that enable virtual workers to do their jobs in the same manner as their office-dwelling counterparts. In a traditional office environment technology is important, but in a virtual model it is imperative. An employee working from home cannot be successful if the corporation hasn¹t sufficiently invested in the technology systems and processes needed to enable them to do their job and be supervised while doing it. Corporate structures need to evolve to take advantage of today’s technology.”It’s also important that companies realize there are significant groups of highly qualified Americans for whom a traditional office job doesn’t make sense, specifically military veterans and their spouses for whom job portability is critical, the disabled who have access and transportation challenges that often prevent them from getting to an office, and caregivers who require flexible work schedules and need to be available for children or ailing parents. For these people, the opportunity to work from home is
critical. If a company finds that certain people in the organization are not getting the job done from home, it’s understandable that the next step would be to bring them back into the office.”

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Kailash Ambwani, President and CEO

Actiance

“As the walls between work and play are falling down, the ability to leverage talent on a global basis and knowledge workers’ expectation to be able to work from anywhere, anytime it behooves companies to embrace remote workers. Of course, there is value in ‘water cooler’ discussions and face time with colleagues. Intrapersonal collaboration should be highly valued as innovation thrives on serendipitous exchange of information.“Conversely, productivity, which trades on process with a focus on completion, is often best served in non-context changing environments. The bottom line is that innovation drives productivity, which may be the paradigm Yahoo! is striving for. For the ever-evolving telecommuting lifestyle millions lead, this is where creative technology platforms come into play.”Modern technologies, such as the Socialite Engage mobile app, enhance the telecommuting experience by empowering employees to share pre-approved content, interact with peers, clients and prospects, analyze the impact of published content, and just be overall active in social media venues. Technologies that are compliant and provide instant engagement encourage telecommuters to interact in the day-to-day as if they were in an office down the hall, providing value to an enterprise and keeping the remote worker engaged in company culture.”


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Susan Baroncini-Moe
Author, Business in Blue Jeans

Business In Blue Jeans

“I work with companies to help them design successful telecommuting experiences, and Yahoo is making a huge mistake. It’s likely that they’ll see a decrease in work quality and productivity, as well as job satisfaction, which means an increase in attrition and expenses.”Several studies have shown that telecommuting is actually more productive than working in a cubicle or corner office. Most of the time workers save in driving time is spent working and they produce better
(and more) results working from home.”There are several ways to make the telecommuting more personal and to keep telecommuting workers involved in the corporate culture, including establishing regular ‘in office days’ so that they actually are in the office some of the time, using video conferencing to include telecommuting workers in meetings, and holding off-site meetings for employees to share progress and plans. All of these strategies require
some training, but are completely do-able. Yahoo won’t see any easy fixes by banning telecommuting- in fact, it’s more likely that they’ll experience some damage instead.”

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David Hassell, CEO

15Five

“I’m a big believer in work/life integration over work/life balance. The demands of modern work require us to be ever connected and after work much more than a standard 40 hours per week, but don’t always require work to be done at a set time or on a set schedule. So why not allow for employees to spend a month in the mountain and ski for 2-3 hours in the morning, as long as they’re getting work done before and after? Why require people to spend hours each day spending time, money and gas to commute every day when a good chunk of their work may not require them to be interacting with each other and in fact where interacting may actually be counterproductive and hinder performance?”I believe that one of the keys to being a highly productive individual is to single-task for long periods of uninterrupted time. This is the only way to truly enter the flow state so many people long to experience in their lives. Being able to work from home or remotely provides this opportunity, safe from the distractions of interruptions that are commonplace in the office.”That said I’m also a big believer in the power of human connection and so it’s important to balance solo work time with collaborate team time. For that reason, we bring the team together periodically to spend time together.”

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Allison VanNest, Head of Communications

Grammarly

“On the heels of Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo!, Grammarly (www.grammarly.com) pulled 60+ resumes from Indeed.com to determine whether there is a connection between where workers work – telecommute vs. in-office – and their writing skills.”Grammarly found that professionals with jobs that require them to work in the office make nearly twice as many writing mistakes on their resumes (5.8 mistakes) as those that telecommute (3.1 mistakes). And, while men and women who telecommute average the same number of mistakes per 100 words (3.1 mistakes), in-office workers show some discrepancy in writing skills between the sexes. Women who work in the office are slightly better writers than men who work in the office (5.8 mistakes vs. 6.4 mistakes, respectively).”The writing is on the wall: Telecommuters seem to be better at written communication, perhaps because they use email as a primary method of exchanging ideas and must hone this skill. However, as Ms. Mayer said, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”"In other words, bringing people together in the same space allows happy accidents of innovation – or serendipity. In-office workers make more mistakes in their written communication, but by many accounts they are much more productive on the job because they are able to interact with others more frequently.”

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Sara Sutton Fell, CEO/Founder

FlexJobs

“The short answer is yes. Here are some of the ways we all stay in touch:A company message board where we chat about work and personal topics. We use Yammer to stay connected, just as the ‘water cooler’ might in an office.”Regular, structured meetings. We have a weekly all-staff web conference where everyone can speak, be heard, and feel a part of the team. We also have weekly team meetings so everyone in our company chats with each other multiple times each week. This helps people keep up with one another, and showcase their own hard work to their coworkers.”The best example of our successful telecommuting is our recent in-person management meeting – the first in our company history. We’ve grown loads over the last three years and it’s hard to believe that the 10 people in our management team have never met each other! But last week, we held our first in-person management retreat and it was obvious from the start that, regardless of telecommuting, we’d developed a fantastic team rapport and were completely comfortable with each other. Solid proof that telecommuting programs can be as social and productive as working in the office.”

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Dana Marlowe, Principal Partner

Accessibility Partners, LLC

“I don’t think a corner office defines career woman—in fact, I feel that my home office enables me to be more of a businesswoman with its privileges. Instead of being tethered to a nine to five schedule, a home office enables me to set my own hours, and I end up working more than a conventional eight-hour day. I’ve made business deals driving to appointments during the day, and I have less sick days because I can work from home.”My company, Accessibility Partners, helps test and consult on technology for people with disabilities. What makes Accessibility Partners a completely different work from home model is that many of our employees who are technological testers and consultants are people with disabilities. The disabilities are varied — some have mobility impairments while others have visual and auditory disabilities. This makes travel and communication difficult in a traditional office setting.”However, this difficulty is all but gone in a telework model. It’s perfect for our staff that have hearing disabilities and even those who are Blind or Low Vision. With such a commitment to telework, we all can focus on our careers and not logistics. It’s all about making accommodations, and these have enabled us to be successful in the business world.”

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Sean O’Brien, EVP of Strategy

PGi

“The modern workplace has evolved-more people are mobile or working remotely today than ever before. Innovative companies embrace this evolution, focusing more on the quality of work their employees produce rather than their physical location. At PGi, we recognize that the best people for the job aren’t always conveniently located near one of our offices. By adopting flexible work arrangements, we’ve been able to hire and retain superior talent, while at the same time continuing to increase our employee productivity and job satisfaction. By embracing the philosophy that ‘work is what you do, not where you go,’ we’ve been able to expand our business into 25 countries, grow to 1,800 talented and engaged employees worldwide and reallocate non-productive office-related expenses into investments in our future growth.”PGi’s Flexible Workforce by the Numbers:

  • Over 50% of our global workforce enjoys flexible work options.
  • More than 1-in-7 of our U.S. employees telecommutes full time.
  • We reduced our physical office space needs by 25% since the recession due to increased teleworking/flex hours and our other virtual working arrangements.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A veteran of the dotcom boom, Dan's history dates back to those heady days when 19-year-old Stanford dropouts with $10 million in venture money were creating great (and sometimes not-so-great) things. His deep experience in helping companies create their messaging strategies, combined with his years as an industry observer and pundit, has led him to create Ugly Dog Media. From the beginning, his strategy has been to surround himself with incredibly talented people, and this strategy has enabled him to build Ugly Dog Media from nothing into the international marketing firm it is today. Dan has been in the industry long enough to know what works . . . what doesn't work . . . and most importantly, what shouldn't work but still does. Dan received his B.A. in Literature from University of California, Santa Cruz.

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