Telecommuting: It's Not All or Nothing

Mature woman working on laptop at coffee table
Mature woman working on laptop at coffee table

At a recent appearance at the Great Place to Work conference, Yahoo!'s CEO Marissa Mayer attempted to explain why she banned telecommuting within their company by saying that while "people are more productive when they are alone, they're more collaborative when they're together." I have two big problems with that statement.

My first big problem: From a general management perspective, it insinuates the best decision was either all telecommuting or no telecommuting. In reality, it should be a balance of both cultivated to harness more productivity and more collaboration. Not one or the other. For example, by her logic, now Yahoo! employees can have all the great ideas around the proverbial water cooler. There, they can collaborate, discuss and fine tune these ideas. But as any entrepreneur or smart businessperson knows, having a good idea is just that -- an idea. The key is being able to bring that idea to fruition through successful execution, and to have successful execution, you've got to be able to achieve a high level of productivity. But she is indicating that employees will be less productive.

My second big problem: Saying that people have to be physically in the same room to have great ideas is ridiculous. I mean, seriously? I would venture a guess that in the past 15 years of workforce mobility, millions of amazing ideas have occurred during phone calls, email conversations, and video conferencing. And from my personal experience of running an entirely virtual company for the past six-plus years -- where none of us have ever sat in an office together -- we have never had a shortage of great ideas and collaboration. In fact, we have TOO many great ideas, and it comes down to prioritizing and timing for which ones have the most opportunity tied to them.

As a virtual company, our team is scattered all over the country and one in Europe, all of whom are sharing and discussing ideas together while thousands of miles (and time zones) apart. From emails to phone calls to IMs, we never hesitate to reach out when a great idea strikes. Together, we collaborate. We create. And then we prioritize the ideas and put them in motion. Like any good, healthy company would.

And that's the problem with Marissa Mayer's statement that should be clarified -- she has made her choice to ban telecommuting because their work culture is not healthy, not because telecommuting couldn't be beneficial to the company and its employees. It's a defensive play, which I understand because they are backed into a corner and making some extreme decisions to try to get a grip on things again.

Whereas if a company can come to a decision on workplace flexibility from a more open-minded perspective, I would say that 99 percent of the companies out there would benefit on both productivity and collaboration by offering some forms of work flexibility to their team -- whether it's as minimal as having a flexible schedule once a week or telecommuting a half-day a month, to more comprehensive flexibility options. Here is why:

· Great ideas can come anytime, anywhere. People often say that some of their best ideas come when they're in the shower, or on a hike, or wherever else they might be where they're not over-thinking it. Not necessarily in the office. Being in the office has no exclusive claims to when good ideas come about, so stop thinking it does.

· People naturally have different times of the day when they work best, so let them create when the time is right for them. Sometimes I receive emails at 2 a.m. from my night owl employees, who think best when the sun goes down. The work is done -- and done well -- because the person has the freedom to work according to when they are most productive.

· Embrace when and where your team can work with fewer interruptions and distractions, whether if that's in their at-home office or in your company office with an alternative schedule (early in the morning or after hours). By allowing individuals to focus on their workloads, it will benefit your company.

· Happier, less stressed, and more loyal employees make for a better work culture. So by giving your team some flexibility that helps them work when they work best, they'll get more done, be more productive, be happier in their jobs, and feel more accomplished. And in turn, they'll be more loyal to your company and increase your retention rates.

Ultimately, it's about nurturing employees to bring out the best in them. When they feel supported, these workers become more loyal to their companies. That's when you have those magical light bulb moments that can become The Next Big Idea. But in order to create that environment, employees need to be in balance. That balance, in part, comes from allowing them to be treated like adults and giving them some control over customizing where and when they work.