The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Marissa Mayer speaks during an announcement September 8, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Since being named CEO of Yahoo seven months ago, Marissa Mayer has consistently made the headlines. First, by taking over the helm while five-months pregnant. Second, by going back to work two weeks after giving birth. Third, by helping the fledgling company increase profits last year.

But the biggest headline yet might be about her new policy, announced last Friday, ending all telecommuting. In a memo, she stated: "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side."

Her announcement, not surprisingly, has been greeted by overwhelming outrage on the tech blogs and mommy blogs and in the business world — with the vast majority accusing Mayer of being inflexible, retrograde, and insensitive to work-life balance.

But there are a few folks out there who see Mayer’s new policy as smart business. John Sullivan is one of them. A professor of management at San Francisco State University, he’s also a human resources advisor who’s worked with Yahoo, Google, Apple, and nearly 200 other companies.

According to him, Yahoo’s move is not surprising given their competitors: "Not every firm needs to be a thorough innovator, but Yahoo does because its competition is Google and Apple, which are clearly innovators. So it's not a trend, it's they need to be innovative and it turns out that you just get more innovation when people meet and interact, stop and talk to each other, especially people who don’t normally work together."

Sullivan says that Mayer’s approach is not an emotional one, rather it’s based in scientific research that supports the notion that telecommuting stifles innovation. According to to him, Mayer’s decision can be interpreted as family-friendly in some ways: "This company is going to go down and everyone is going to lose their job. So the focus needs to be on the shareholders and if it's on women and children, it should be those women and children, because everyone’s going to lose their job if Yahoo doesn’t straighten this out."


Alex Johnson and John Sullivan

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [5]

Andrew from Portland Oregon

I am an Enterprise Solution Architect for a mobility division of a global fortune 100 company. I work remotely mostly because I support teams around the world and there is no one place for me to be in. I have telecommuted off and on (usually only part of a work week) for the better part of two decades now. It is my opinion that for the IT world it is ideal to have no more than two days a week when the goal is both productivity, innovation and team dynamics. Being flexible with the life cycle of development is important though. ie. Sometimes 10 days straight from home may be useful to push a large amount of code out. Sometimes a few weeks of team interaction is needed when brainstorming new product development.

Feb. 27 2013 01:58 PM

As a software engineer it's often much less distracting to work from home than from the office. Creativity and innovation can come from a lone worker just as often as from a group.

Feb. 27 2013 01:50 PM
Guy Gold from Austin, Tx

You cannot consider telecommuting without considering the new dynamic of Peak Oil. Since 2005 the world has been unable to increase oil production. The hyped technologies like fracking have slow flow rates and rapid declines in productivity of drilled wells.

Employers are about to face the new dilemma of having to see a lot of wage inflation to make it so people can afford the gasoline to get to work-or they're going to have to accept the lower cost telecommuting option for workers.

Feb. 27 2013 12:57 PM
Angel from Miami, FL

You can be productive working from home but you can't be creative or inventive. There's just not enough chaos sitting at home alone to develop new ideas.

Feb. 27 2013 09:57 AM
Andrew Faix from Novi, Michigan

I work for a large software company. Although we have a large office where I work here in Michigan, my current project requires me to interact primarily with co-workers on the West Coast and in Australia. I generally work from home 2-3 days a week and have adjusted my schedule to accommodate the other time zones I interact with.

I consider the ability to telecommute at my own discretion imperative to my performance and morale. If I worked for Yahoo this week, I'd be polishing my resume.

All I need is a good internet connection and a little bit of privacy and I can be as productive and innovative as I would be in the office.

Feb. 27 2013 09:07 AM

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