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Why Banning Remote Work is Hurtful, Not Helpful
Posted on February 26th 2013
It was a news headline that made my blood run cold when I read it just a few days ago. CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, recently announced through a companywide memo that every employee employed with Yahoo must now come into the office to do their work with no exceptions available to work from home. If an employee doesn’t like that option, they can quit.
Having been a Mayer supporter for some time now, I can’t say I feel the same upon reading the news and the very obvious split in articles online that both praise and condemn Mayer’s actions. Rather than immediately rail on Mayer and cry out that all of this is her fault, I was determined to look at both sides of the coin to see what it is about remote working that requires such a strong ban in a company filled with hundreds of employees like Yahoo. And having done my homework, I cannot agree with banning remote working. I cannot support it. And I absolutely refuse to for the following four reasons.
For Anyone in Social Media, This is Our Worst Nightmare
Remote work and telecommuting isn’t for every industry. Careers that are more hands-on with employees who are higher up the totem pole of job titles may require more face time in the office than say, an intern or entry level assistant will. But for anyone working in social media especially, this ban is our worst nightmare. Social media managers and associates are constantly fighting for the position as it is and restrictions like these in a job that can basically be done anywhere so long as your internet connection is solid, are very much like what happens if you get caught in a boa constrictor’s embrace: slowly but surely it will squeeze the life out of you. This brings me to my next point…
Being in the Office Doesn’t Guarantee a Better Performance
This has long been one of my favorite myths of any business – seat a person in a cubicle for 8 hours 5 days a week and expect them to deliver insanely brilliant work day in and day out nonstop like some sort of content machine. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were under the impression this is so, but it’s not.
The Yahoo memo stresses that "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," yet Mayer paid to have a nursery built in her office for her infant son. For every employee who works from home with a major (or smaller) company, this memo must feel like a slap in the face to them. That good, solid work can’t be produced unless it’s under poorly lit fluorescent lighting with your coworkers gossiping cattily nearby over the water cooler. In AllThingsD, Kara Swisher writes that many employees were also hired under the impression that they could work from home with a more flexible work schedule. Imagine the amount of resentment that these employees will now feel with this option no longer in place and instead trudging into the company headquarters day in and day out, building to resenting the company culture in place, especially if said employees are working mothers with families to uproot and relocate along with them.
Leaders Make the Call on Who Works Remotely and Who Doesn’t
Now we flip to the other side of the coin – Yahoo’s side. Apparently the company has suffered from quite a history of remote work abuse with former employee accounts mentioning that many who worked from home weren’t productive, available, or in some cases, it was a surprise that they still worked at Yahoo. And this was in departments across the board, exclusive to no one particular area either.
While I may have a Jiminy Cricket-esque voice in my head that often badgers me to constantly set and reach as many goals as I possibly can each and every day, I know the same can’t be said for everyone else. Self motivation and work ethic as a whole is extremely difficult to have and hang onto, especially if you’re working from your PJ’s in bed on a rainy morning and still feeling more sleepy and less into doing actual work. Rather than put a ban on remote working, a leader needs to evaluate the person who is requesting it as an option, thoroughly read through their track records at the company, and make the call on whether they can or not.
It’s an Impractical, Stale Move That Takes Your Company a Major Step Backward
I do understand that at the core of everything, Mayer is doing her best to remedy problems that have built up within Yahoo over a 15 year period. Many of her decisions will be criticized and heavily scrutinized by employees and non-employees at Yahoo alike. But I also believe that the best way to solve a problem is to remain true to the time period, too. Banning remote workers in an age that is heavily transitioning to telecommuting will have a harder time adapting to the times and not being made a laughingstock to outside companies that have mastered remote working and cannot imagine being without it.
The biggest move Mayer should be making? Communicate more. Communicate often. There is structure that can be built through strong communication with staff no matter how many are on the team or where they’re at – if you’re communicating often with your team, it means more collaboration and makes them impossible to forget. (Speaking from personal experience, you can be forgotten just as much if you’re in the actual office as you can if you work remotely. It’s not a location exclusive thing.)
Through great communication come better results, established boundaries, and structure which once all in place will have your ship sailing along quite smoothly. Even to a point where it has the flexibility to decide where to head next and how to make that approach with the crew.