Telecommuting: The Good, the Bad and the Lazy

Recently Marissa Mayer the CEO of Yahoo passed the proclamation ending telecommuting at the company. Many people have vilified her for this move while overlooking the fact that she was hired to steer back from the brink of destruction. She has one job right now and that is to turn the company around or all of those whining telecommuters will be on the street looking for new jobs. It's really that plain and simple.

From my own perspective having been a IT consultant for more than 15 years I can honestly agree with her decision. I have had the opportunity to observe more than my share of telecommuting situations and as great as working from home (WFH) in your pajamas may seem it incurs a hefty penalty. The longer/more often you work remotely the worse it is for your over all continued employment prospect.

'But what about video conferencing?' you say. To that I answer Skype, Google Chat, iMessages are all inadequate for long term business usage. Video chatting is absolutely no substitute for in person face to face discussion. It is almost too casual for effective collaboration.

Honestly almost every company I have worked at, or consulted for the first employees on the chopping block have always been the remote workers. These workers were always view from the perspective of the company's arbitrary metrics for performance and not their actual contribution to the work environment. No amount of video conferencing is going to change that. I tell you be very wary if a manager approaches you proposing that you start working from home more. That is a clear indication that you should clean up your resume.

Of course then there will always be those star employees with a unique personal situations that require some latitude in this area. Be it a result of a health issue, or the arrival of a new child or some other special circumstance, these are the times when having a well defined project or at least a scope of work can make all the difference between a successful WFH experience and a failed one.

I am not suggesting that ALL telecommuting is bad there are obvious situations where it makes a smart business decision. If your company wants to penetrate a new market then you absolutely need to establish a satellite office which typically will begin in the representatives home office. Honestly travel is expensive and keeping an eye on the bottom line means you have to balance these costs versus the needs of the company.

To give an example or two of the value of being there consider this recent personal experience. During a meeting a question came up about load balancers and at the end of the meeting myself and two other individuals were able to approach the team in charge of this equipment and get the answer in less time than it would have taken to write an email properly phrasing the question.

Yet another situation, I was recently working on an web project and passed a coworker from the SEO team by the coffee machine. The obligatory 'Hey how you doing...' chit chat morphed into 'Hey this project I am working how does it affect SEO...' Her reply was to pull me into her next meeting because another side of the company had a whole project focused on something parallel to my project. I would never have had the chance to sit in that meeting had we not passed in the hall. This allowed me to adapt my system better aligning it with the other teams goals.

In general the best mix of telecommuting that I have witnessed revolves around the freedom to WFH when needed so long as you have a clear set of achievable goals for the time working out of the office. What I mean by this is that if you need to attend to some personal business like say going to the DMV renew your license in person then having the freedom to complete this task creates a strong work/life balance. However, from a work perspective you need to set an achievable goal for the remained of the day and then hold yourself to the task of getting it done.

Other times you may encounter a situation where you are ill or the weather is not conducive to commuting. I know as a manager I would rather have my sick employees keep the germs at home away from the rest of the team members, while accomplishing our goals. Furthermore, as someone who commutes two hours in the morning and three in the evening, I totally understand the arbitrary uncertainty of the commuter railroad. I would rather have my team members safe at home working on the project then risking life and limb just to be present in the office.

Honestly that is just plain stupid and would represent gross miscarriage of leadership. We have all worked for that guy before and I am not about to risk my life for someone else's ego.

So what is your take on all of these telecommuting shenanigans?