Both sides wrong about telecommuting

Both sides wrong about telecommuting
Studies that show people are more productive when they work from home are vulnerable to an effect where subjects change their behaviour in response to an experiment. Photo: Bloomberg
Published: 3:58 AM, March 11, 2013
Updated: 3:50 AM, March 12, 2013
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This editorial was produced in an office, so it may be 13 per cent less productive and efficient at its job than if it were written at home. Then again, if it were produced at home, away from the boss’s gaze, it might still be goofing off, collecting glib phrases and sentence fragments without cohering into anything persuasive.

In the latest debate over telecommuting, sparked by Yahoo!’s announcement that all employees working from home must start showing up at the office, the two camps have staked out their positions.

Advocates of working from home cite studies showing that telecommuting benefits employers and employees alike. Opponents extol the benefits that can come only from a spontaneous, collaborative work environment.

Two subtleties undermine each of these views. First, little about telecommuting’s value can be deduced from the current body of research on the subject.

Second, Yahoo’s experience with home-bound workers says a lot about its experience with home-bound workers. About the only generalised lesson we can draw is that managing employees well is vital, whether they work in a cramped cubicle or the spare bedroom.

Yahoo! insiders say it had become a common view that the company was bogged down with slackers taking advantage of work-from-home arrangements. So Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer, hired in July to turn the troubled company around, apparently decided to test that theory by checking how many remote employees were logging into the company’s network, allowing them secure access to Yahoo!’s systems.

The answer: too few.


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