Telecommuting May Not Be at End of Line Despite Best Buy, Yahoo Curbs

Thursday, 07 Mar 2013 02:10 PM

By Glenn J. Kalinoski

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Telecommuters worried that their work-from-home privileges may be phased out following announcements by Yahoo and Best Buy may have little to worry about.

The practice is a growing trend. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that 13.4 million people worked at home at least part time during a typical week in 2010, according to a story by Isolde Raftery of today.com’s lifeinc. The number of those working in engineering, science and computer segments skyrocketed 69 percent in the first decade of the 21st century.

Stressing the “need to be one Yahoo,” CEO Marissa Mayer announced the multinational company based in Silicon Valley will no longer allow telecommuting, and that starting in June all employees with work-from-home arrangements will be expected to work out of a company office.

“Being at Yahoo isn’t just about your day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are possible only in our offices,” read a Yahoo Human Resources memo issued at the direction of Mayer that was leaked by company employees.

The Wall Street Journal reported that top Yahoo managers have been told there will be little flexibility on telecommuting and that the company expects employees to either comply with the new policy or leave.

Yahoo employees, many of whom said they came to the company because it provided more flexible working accommodations, were reportedly upset by the memo. One called it “outrageous and a morale killer.”

Although the memo said “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work at home,” a variety of research in recent years documents that home-based employees increase company efficiency and productivity.

Raftery cited Carol Roth, a brand consultant for the virtual office space company Regus, who said employers are able to keep their top talent with flexibility in the workplace.

“I was disappointed to hear about this mandate from Yahoo because they’re a tech company and it’s made us more flexible and allowed us to work from anywhere,” Roth told today.com’s lifeinc. “To say that the only way to be connected is if you’re side by side with somebody is completely backward and at odds with their own mission.”

Author Susan Cain told Raftery Yahoo’s mandate could limit creativity.

“The kind of person who is in Silicon Valley is a person who is at the top of their game as an engineer and has a creative mind,” Cain told today.com’s lifeinc. “Also, it’s a type of person who wants to control their own destiny much more than working for a corporation. They want to dictate their own working terms. They tend to be pretty committed to what they’re doing.”

British billionaire Richard Branson criticized Mayer for being out of step with the modern workplace in a blog post: “Give people the freedom of where to work,” according to a story published by the Los Angeles Times.

“This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever,” Branson wrote.

The Times also reported that the U.S. trails the rest of the industrialized world in terms of flexible work arrangements, said Jennifer Glass, a sociology professor and research associate in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Best Buy Co. will no longer allow its corporate employees to work from home or other locations whenever they want, in a change of policy that marks a shift from a results-based work environment to a more traditional arrangement.

The electronics corporation's 4,000 nonstore employees who previously took advantage of its “Results Only Work Environment,” or ROWE, will have to get a manager to sign off on any work done via telecommuting or from home.

“It used to be a right about which a manager had no say. Now it's a conversation,” Best Buy spokesman Matt Furman told CNN Money in an e-mail. “We believe in employee flexibility, but are looking for it to come in the context of a conversation between that employee and their manager.”

ROWE, which allowed employees to work when and where they wanted as long as the job got done, made an impact when it was initiated in 2005, earning a spot on the cover of BusinessWeek and drawing praise from flexible-schedule advocates. Critics complained it cut down on office face time.

“In the context of a business transformation, it makes sense to consider not just what the results are, but how the work gets done,” Furman told CNN Money. "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.”

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

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