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BLOG: Remote working ban will jeopardise productivity

Mark Dixon | Feb. 28, 2013
Good management and incentivisation models should make it possible to motivate staff wherever they work – whether remotely or on-site.

Yahoo CEO

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer certainly knows how to ruffle feathers. In 2012, she announced she would work through her maternity leave; now she has told Yahoo! staff they cannot work remotely.

Whilst the maternity leave decision is a personal one, the remote working ban could have grave consequences for Yahoo!'s workforce and performance. The leaked memo about the ban says the company wants to encourage interactions and experiences that are only possible in its offices. But surely that's just a version of presenteeism: "Only if we can see you all in front of us can we know that you're collaborating with your colleagues".

Requiring staff to be present at a fixed location and fixed hours is an outmoded management practice that was made redundant by laptops, smartphones, tablets and the cloud. One of researches conducted last year on flexible working, covering over 20,000 business executives worldwide, 72 percent said that flexible working (flexibility of time and location) makes businesses more productive, and 63 percent said that flexible working makes staff more motivated and energised.[1] Anecdotal evidence gives plenty of reasons why this should be the case: people spend less time commuting; they can better balance the timings of job and family; they appreciate the flexibility as a valuable job perk. Restricting flexible working jeopardises all that.

Nevertheless, Yahoo! may be right in one respect: that home-working can damage productivity. Business people identify a wide range of obstacles to being productive at home: from family demanding attention (59 percent) to difficulties concentrating on work issues (43 percent), to lack of access to office equipment (32 percent).[2] They also feel deprived of creative interaction with other people.

Given those obstacles, Yahoo! may well have home-based staff who are under-performing. But good management and incentivisation models should make it possible to motivate staff wherever they work - whether remotely or on-site.

Not a straight choice

The point to understand about remote working is that it doesn't have to be a straight choice between the office and the home. People now undertake work in a variety of 'third spaces' including business centres and lounges, libraries, and coffee shops. If you link performance measures and rewards to output rather than presence at the office, they'll choose the place where they can work most productively.

When business people were asked about the benefits of third-space working, convenient location (eg being closer to home than the office) easily topped the list, with 73 percent of people citing it.[3] In the modern lexicon of business jargon, convenience doesn't have quite the same ring as more fashionable management theories, so companies may overlook its importance. But the fact that convenience affects people's lives day in, day out has a major impact on how they perform their jobs. To ignore it, and compel staff to work at locations and times that don't suit their lives, is to risk throwing staff loyalty, staff retention and productivity to the winds. Yahoo! and any other companies tempted to follow suit - beware.


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