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Is Yahoo's telework ban shortsighted or savvy? Data says both

Ann Bednarz | March 1, 2013
Employee morale will plummet, key people will quit, and efforts to enhance collaboration will backfire, critics said of CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo. But not all data comes to the same conclusions.

Telecommuting benefits productivity

"Companies that have embraced telecommuting have found that their remote workers are just as, if not more productive than traditional office workers," Challenger, Gray & Christmas stated earlier this month. "Analyses of Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many other employers have found that teleworkers are 35 percent to 45 percent more productive. American Express found that its teleworkers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts."

On the other hand...

Slackers are out there had telework advocates up in arms when it released a survey saying the majority of teleworkers aren't putting in a full day's work. In the 2011 report, just 35% of telecommuters said they work 8 hours or more on a typical full-time day. The top distractions cited were: household chores (31%), TV (26%), pets (23%), errands (19%), Internet (18%), and children (15%).

Local bosses make employees happier

Where a manager works makes a difference to his or her subordinates, according to research from Timothy Golden of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Allan Fromen of GfK Custom Research. Their survey of 11,000 people found that work experiences and outcomes are generally less positive for employees who work for a telecommuting or virtual manager than they are for employees who work for traditional, on-site managers.

It's just a ploy to get more work out of employees

Employees who work from home end up working five to seven hours more a week, according to Mary Noonan, associate professor of sociology at University of Iowa, and Jennifer Glass, sociology professor at University of Texas at Austin. In their report, titled "The Hard Truth about Telecommuting," the authors analyze U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and conclude: "Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

Employee morale isn't everything

When the U.S. Office of Personnel Management launched a yearlong experiment in flexible work scheduling, some metrics showed promise: the number of employees who felt they were "highly engaged" increased 12 percentage points to 56%; managers rated 82% of project participants as "high performers"; and sick/personal leave hours decreased. Yet the pilot was discontinued. According to the Federal Times -- which made a Freedom of Information Act request in order to access Deloitte's review of the pilot -- unaccountability killed the project. "OPM managers proved unable to hold poor performers accountable, work quality slumped in some cases, and employees had no idea if they were succeeding because they weren't getting enough manager feedback," the Federal Times reported.


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