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It’s About the Work, Not the Office – Telework Week

All week the DorobekINSIDER will be talking telework. Last month Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer outlawed telework at her company. The reaction to the news was swift on both sides. With some opponents calling the decision an attack on working mothers or a real push for innovation.

On Monday we talked with San Francisco State University Professor John Sullivan who said innovation and telework don’t mix. While Suzanne McGee says removing telework is morale crushing mistake.

Jennifer Glass is a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also a senior research associate at the Population Research Center.

Glass told Chris Dorobek that she is shocked by Mayer’s decision because employers get more out telework than even the employees do.

“Telecommuting, as it has evolved in practice, benefits employers more than employees because the technologies that enable telecommuting are used to increase the workload of employees. Employees can continue to work at home, can be responsive on weekends or even work while sick. Telecommuting hasn’t reduced the demand for face time at the office. People are expected to be there 40 hours a week and then be available through telecommuting technologies while they’re not at work,” said Glass.

Professor Sullivan said you can’t innovate and telework. Do you agree?

“There are lots of ways you can telework and working exclusively from home is very rare. Most people have a combination between hours in and out of the office. So you have ample time to meet and greet. What people forget is a lot of the time people spend socializing in the lunch line/bumping into each other in the hallways is spent talking about sports or kids or your weekend plans. So there is an awful lot of lost time and productivity in face to face chats. So I think we have to be careful saying innovation only comes from face to face interactions,” said Glass.

How Do You Overcome Telework Obstacles?

  • One big obstacle is managers and supervisors who don’t know how to manage autonomous workers. They don’t know how to set performance metrics or expectations or accountability standards.

Flexibility Attracts Young Workers

“It seems to me that the best and the brightest (especially young workers) will be able to write their own ticket for the type of working conditions they want, no matter what. But if you are only an average worker you can’t expect flexibility in your workspace,” said Glass.

Telework Tools

“Given the newness of companies like Skype or the opportunity to share documents in the cloud and things like that it is premature to say productivity or innovation can only happen face to face. These tools allow a new form of face to face,” said Glass.

Why Would Yahoo Outlaw Telework?

“It could be a strategy to try to get more cooperation from workers who were quiet frankly discouraged. They’ve seen a lot of turnover, a lack of direction. This was supposed to be some morale building exercise, but the decision was seen as more of a punishment,” said Glass.

Was Yahoo’s Decision a Knee-Jerk Reaction?

“I liken it to using a hammer to kill a fly. It could have been managers were struggling to oversee virtual workers. Or it could be that some telecommuters were overstepping or abusing the system. But to jump from that to we have to bring everyone back to the office is a bit extreme,” said Glass.

Two things to watch for, in the wake of Yahoo’s decision:

  1. Can Yahoo come up with some great, new product that everyone is excited about and can they trace its success back to some of these personnel decisions.
  2. Will there be a customer backlash. Consumers don’t want to use a product from a company they perceive as being unfriendly to employees.

You can find all our telework week stories by searching key word: Telework Week.

  • John Sullivan: Impossible to Innovate and Telework? One Professor says YES. Find out why?
  • Suzanne McGee: Is removing telework a morale crushing mistake?
  • Tom Fox: PTO Does Telework Right, Can Your Agency Copy It?
  • Jack Nilles: Is Traditional Office Space Dysfunctional?

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