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Is telecommuting dead?

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Marrysa Meyer, Yahoo's CEO wants to remove telecommuting

Marrysa Meyer, Yahoo’s CEO wants to remove telecommuting

Recently, Marrisa Meyer, Yahoo’s CEO, creates the controversy with her move to take away the flexible working arrangements that Yahoo employee are benefiting from. The reason was that working home or in other locations was a source of inefficiency in the work organization. The Yahoo’s human resources chief, Jackie Reses, mentioned that communication and collaboration are important, so people need to work side-by-side and it is critical that all people have to be present in the offices. Such affirmation created a lot of negative reactions. By reading this, I was thinking about the pertinence of such conclusion and decision about work organization. The inefficiency causes are probably not linked to the fact that people are not working at the same place. Personally, I spent more than 20 years in offices where people are coming everyday, but who are not communicating, are not sharing information. The problem is probably somewhere else.

In my mind, telecommuting or home working will be a trend in the coming years for many reasons, but it is not an end on itself. It is a possibility collaborators can use in particular circumstances. As in each system, conditions and rules need to be defined in order to get good results, and you will see that some rules are only basic management principles.

  • How to measure productivity? Is your company measuring productivity by the number of hours spent in the offices, or by the deliverables and the produced added-value? People can spend hours in the office and show low performances and other can work less time but provide results that represent significant added-value for the company. Some people are working less time but more wisely than others. The added-value they are providing can bring more future benefits to the organization than the work of other people working more time.
  • Are the goals clearly defined? : People have to know the scope of the projects they are working on. If people have clear goals, if they know where they have to go, what they have to do, and if they can appreciate the contribution they will bring to a common project, a big part of the success is ensured. By meeting such conditions, you are sure that the goals match with their aspirations. If they are motivated, they will take the appropriate actions to meet these goals and provide the needed work. But it is also the opportunity to indentify what will be the methodology of work and to see if some tasks need to be done in the office or not. For specific tasks, you will be probably more productive by working in an environment where you are not disturbed by colleagues every five minutes.
  • Organize regular meetings: Regular meetings are essential to share information, to fix an agenda for the coming days. Define with your team what will be the topics of the meeting, and spend only the time needed to cover these topics. It will be the opportunity to fix the next point, reporting and deadlines.
  • Define a reporting frame and deadlines: In order to follow the work in progress, set up a periodical reporting. By reviewing the progress of projects with your team members, you will appreciate the work done, and see if the productivity is there or not. It will be also the opportunity to be informed what the potential issues are and what the appropriate actions are needed, in order to prevent them. Pro-activity and anticipation implies communication.
  • Provide efficient technology: it is essential to provide efficient technology to ensure the productivity of people working remotely. Just a quick remind that technology is only a tool who contributes to ensure a better efficiency and productivity, only if the previous point are defined. By investing in good technology, you will allow people to work in good conditions and improve their productivity. Your return on investment will be reached quickly, by the provided time gains.

If such conditions are met, working remotely can be a real advantage. Time spent by people in traffic jams to go work, represents an important economical cost, as this time is unproductive, but also a cost in term of health and wellness. I noticed often that some organizations do not work, not because they have not efficient tools or because people are working remotely, but only because there is a lack of organization and management, or because people does not subscribe to the project.

I would say that companies don’t need to adopt a single way of organization, working in the offices or remotely. Each system has his advantage for specific functions, in particular circumstances, for specific tasks. But it is something as many things that need to be prepared, evaluated and improved on an ongoing way.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 20, 2013 at 22:04