Is Working From Home Going Out of Fashion?

Carla Turchetti by Carla Turchetti on March 13, 2013
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In an already infamous move, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is eliminating the company’s telecommuting policy in an effort to promote better collaboration among employees, MSN Money and others report. “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together,” a memo to employees explained. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

Should small-business owners follow Mayer’s lead and do away with allowing staff to work remotely?

Jeffrey Weinstock, president of staffing and consulting firm Rhodes & Weinstock, says his small business will continue to encourage employees to work at home four days a week. “Allowing and even encouraging employees to work from home has helped keep morale up and allowed us to hire several great recruiters who needed the flexibility that a position like this affords,” Weinstock says. “This may not work for every company, such as Yahoo, but it has worked really well for us.”

William Lau, digital marketing manager for the online art gallery Canvas Paintings.com, says allowing more than half of the company’s 25 employees to work from home is good for the bottom line. “Telecommuting simply allows us to spend less on operating expenses, such as office space,” says Lau. “The overhead of having employees in-house can just be too costly [for small businesses].”

The staff of Pink Pearl PR works together from various remote locations in the U.S. and Canada. “Tools such as Skype, TeamViewer, and synchronized calendars make this arrangement quite simple,” says founder and managing director Talia Beckett. “I use the group chat function in Skype for employee chitchat, which acts like the watercooler brainstorming area.”

Rules and Expectations

Small-business owners agree that highly motivated self-starters make the best telecommuters. Human resources consultant Lynda Zugec, owner and managing director of the Workforce Consultants, advises companies to set clear standards and expectations for employees who work remotely.

“It is extremely important for any small business with a telecommuting policy to develop agreed-upon performance targets with each employee along with an associated plan to manage work effectively,” Zugec says. “If this is not done correctly, it leaves room for employees to essentially manage themselves and potentially take advantage of the policy.”

Jim Angleton, president of AEGIS Financial Services, says those kinds of issues brought an end to telecommuting at his firm. “At one point in time, this practice might have been acceptable, but it is no longer,” he says. “Essentially, the ‘out of sight and out of mind’ theory does enter the picture.”

According to Angleton, telecommuting caused AEGIS to experience declines in productivity, group thinking, and strategy sessions. Clients missed interacting with employees, too. So, the business changed its policy. “We as a group enjoy one another’s company and look forward to the daily interaction.”

Carla Turchetti

Carla Turchetti is a veteran broadcast, print and digital journalist who is passionate about small businesses and the stories behind them. Carla is a small-business columnist at the News & Observer, the regional daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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