It’s About the Work, Not the Office
by Jennifer Glass
(This article was originally published in the New York Times. The original version can be read here.)
THE recent decision by Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, to eliminate telecommuting for all workers brings her company back in line with most of corporate America, where working from home is more illusion than reality. Although many — some estimate most — American jobs could successfully be performed at home, only roughly 16 percent of American employees actually telecommute in any given year. And that figure is reached only by using a very generous definition of telecommuting — working from home at least one hour per week.
The idea behind the Yahoo announcement, as well as a more limited announcement from Best Buy this week that will add restrictions to its telecommuting policy, was that bringing workers back to the office would lead to greater collaboration and innovation. This is despite numerous studies showing that telecommuting workers are more productive than those working on-site.
Yet a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation. Two outdated ideas seem to underlie the Yahoo decision: first, that tech companies can still operate like the small groups of 20-something engineers that founded them; and second, the most old-fashioned of all, that companies get the most out of their employees by limiting their autonomy.