When struggling electronics store Best Buy disclosed yesterday that it would stop its telecommuting program for non-retail employees, it seemed to be the realization of fears that Yahoo's work-from-home ban might become a trend -- at least for businesses besieged by low sales, sagging margins, and insecure futures.
It was, after all, about a week ago that Marissa Mayer's HR team informed Yahoo employees that their telework privileges (or contracted rights, in some cases) were coming to an end. No doubt this news was not what organizers had in mind for Telework Week, March 4-8. (See: Yahoo's Telework Decision Could Be Marissa Mayer's Waterloo.)
These private industry moves come at a time when government continues to embrace telecommuting. Driven in part by the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, government agencies from the Internal Revenue Service to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have adopted this policy.
During Telework Week, more than 110,000 people who don't regularly telecommute promised to do so; 90 percent of them are federal workers, according to the Mobile Work Exchange. Mother Nature may be in on the experiment: As I type this, a nasty snowstorm is encompassing regions of the nation, including Washington, D.C., home to about 80 percent of these telecommuting volunteers.
You can argue there are two different goals at work here: In the case of Best Buy and Yahoo, you have two companies looking to reorganize, regroup, and refocus their employees and organizations in order to become viable and competitive. In the case of government, the goals are primarily to cut costs, become more environmentally friendly, and save workers time and money. But should these goals be mutually incompatible?
Best Buy Follows Yahoo's Lead
Like Yahoo, Best Buy ended its widespread teleworker policy. Unlike Yahoo, employees can continue working remotely with a manager's approval.
(Source: Best Buy)
You Can Have it All
Maybe I'm an idealist, having successfully telecommuted now for two companies and worked from home for 13 years, including a decade as a freelancer for many organizations, large and small. In the 90s, while an editor (working out of headquarters) at CRN, I collaborated with several work-from-home editors and writers, some of whom rose in the ranks to management. Many of our managers at IE parent company UBM DeusM work remotely.
It is always, of course, up to corporate management whether to adopt teleworking initiatives or not. In a world of the sandwich generation, unexpected snowstorms, and national emergencies, it's smart to empower employees to work from anywhere. And with cloud, BYOD, virtualization, social media, and collaborative applications, it's relatively simple to do so.
As organizations continue vying for the best and brightest in hot, complex technologies such as cloud, big-data, and analytics, the biggest paycheck alone won't guarantee you get the All Star. Today's employees demand work/home balance -- and telecommuting is one way to deliver that lifestyle.
Employers also demand productive workers. In the case of Best Buy, it was using a Results Oriented Work Environment, described by its creators as going "beyond telework," and focusing management to evaluate employees "on performance, not presence."
Touted by many as a great place to work because of this emphasis, Best Buy's rationale for changing its telework strategy sounds familiar. As Matt Furman, the company's PR person, told CNN:
In the context of a business transformation, it makes sense to consider not just what the results are but how the work gets done. It's 'all hands on deck' at Best Buy, and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.
Some people, however, will be allowed to continue working remotely with management approval, he noted. But Best Buy's move begs the question: Is telecommuting becoming the sacrificial lamb, the knee-jerk reaction when a corporate shakeup's afoot?
No matter whether an organization hires full-time teleworkers or empowers some office workers to work remotely part-time, it's imperative these employees receive the tools, training, and management metrics to enable their success. If someone's behind a desk in headquarters, it doesn't mean they're getting their job done; if someone's at their desk at home, it equally doesn't mean they're not working. There are ways to determine who is doing what, no matter where they sit. Good managers know this.
Equally important: providing employees the tools they need to collaborate. Today, many of us work with people everywhere, whether they are colleagues, partners, customers, or contractors. We need instant messaging, video chat, document sharing, and other multi-person applications no matter where we are. These tools also give remote workers the opportunity to remain visible with upper management, opening the door to future promotions and career opportunities. After all, home-based workers have a responsibility to themselves not to blend into the cyber woodwork; it's vital to remain part of the corporate culture.
Yahoo's stock rose after Mayer's announcement. It's too early too see what happened to Best Buy's financials, but I guarantee morale tanked.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution