Posted 04-09-2013

When the CEOs of Yahoo and Best Buy recently announced the end of their telecommuting programs, a great debate erupted in the press, blogosphere, and many an office: Does working from home really work?

The two sides quickly lined up: Pro: I get more work done at home, since I don’t have to spend time and energy on commuting, useless meetings, and break room chit-chat. If you make me come into the office, I’ll be more distracted and less productive. Con: People working from home aren’t available to collaborate and brain-storm. There’s no replacement for being together. And, how do we know what they’re really doing, anyway? (According to several reports, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, checked the logs of Yahoo’s Virtual Private Network to find out how often remote employees logged in, and issued the work-from-home ban after finding that telecommuters didn’t log in often enough.)

Both sides have merit. Academic studies suggest that working from home can lead to greater productivity, but less creativity. In a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, workers at a technology company wore electronic badges that kept track of their face-to-face interactions for a month. The researchers found that having everyone in the same place is most important when there are new projects being launched or a defined set of problems a company is trying to solve. Once everyone knows what to do, they can finish the job from home.

Here are some ideas for managers trying to balance the benefits of in-office and at-home work:

How can you help your on-site staff be more productive? You might try “protected time”, where they can really get away from meetings and phone calls, and focus on work.

How can you make your remote workers more available to colleagues? Maybe you set an expectation that from 10 a.m. to noon everyone is available for Skype or video calls. There’s nothing like seeing everyone’s faces to promote a team atmosphere. And it’s hard to shirk with everyone looking at you.

What this means to you:

At Fair Measures, we are big believers in the value of live training. That’s why all of our classes are taught in real time, whether online or in person. We know that having mangers work in groups in case studies in the classroom prompts them to collaborate in applying legal principles to actual management problems. They teach each other, thus reinforcing the concepts for future use.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.