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Teleworking a Deal Breaker?

Feb. 26, 2013 — Scottsdale, Ariz. —  Drop the word “ban” and 10 years ago the headlines probably would have read “Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer causes uproar with telecommuting”.  So is it simply a matter of time, or maybe a matter of timing?  I have to admit, when I read over the weekend that Yahoo was eliminating their telework policy and telling employees that they needed to come back to the office, I felt a certain amount of indignation.  After all, I’ve been promoting the benefits of teleworking to both businesses and employees for years.  And quite frankly, I would be very saddened if my own telework options were taken away.  Then I took a breath and said – ok – let’s looks at this a little more objectively.

In the WorldatWork Total Rewards Model which comprises the five components of rewards that are available to the employer to attract, motivate and retain employees, flexibility programs are not done in a vacuum – or at least shouldn’t be.  Without careful strategic thought put into the why and the what will be offered to employees in terms of rewards (compensation, benefits, work-life, recognition and development opportunities), then there is no connection to supporting the business strategy.  We teach in our first basic course that unless the mix of total rewards supports and enhances the business strategy, then we’re offering rewards that have no direct purpose or line of sight.  That isn’t to say that we offer programs that ONLY support the business and take no consideration of the employee value proposition, but those somehow need to be balanced and sometimes difficult unpopular decisions must be made.  We only have to look into the not too distant past to say the same thing about employee benefit plans.  When I first began my career, I paid very little to have medical coverage and enjoyed very robust benefit plans.  These days we’ve moved in the direction of more cost sharing between employer and employee in our premiums and co-pays.  Or even how merit and incentive increases were so commonplace before 2009 and in the last five years many have struggled to accept that that part of our deal was changed for a time also.  These are not popular changes, however it does happen and I would wager that they happen with a lot of forethought.  It does change the “deal” that employees have with their employers.  Is it a deal breaker?  For some, possibly.  For others, there may be other rewards that are helping soothe the pain of losing out on what they’ve gotten used to.

Now, I shouldn’t have to speak of the benefits of teleworking – or even flexibility in general in terms of what it gives to both the employer and the employee.  Generally speaking it allows employees the flexibility to achieve both work commitments and personal commitments that might otherwise be compromised.  It can lower absenteeism, increase productivity, be a part of a business continuity plan or potentially a huge savings on real estate and facilities.  Does it enhance employee engagement and lower turnover?  Our own Survey on Workplace Flexibility says yes.  The higher an organization rates itself as having a flexible culture, the lower the organization’s voluntary turnover rate.  It’s definitely a popular benefit and as my opening remarks imply – have come a long way in the last decade.

So back to the question about “time” or “timing”.  With the need to turn Yahoo into a frontrunner organization competing with the likes of Google (that by the way also feels that creativity and spontaneity are best captured face-to-face), perhaps this is a decision based on how teleworking does or does not enhance the business strategy and in “time”, there will be another opportunity to re-visit as a viable flexible work option.  And when that time comes, WorldatWork will be there.  Yahoo!

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of WorldatWork.

Reader Comments
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Tue March 5, 2013 3:47 PMReport Abuse
Rose Stanley (Staff)
Comments: 462

Thanks for all of your comments.  All very good points and interesting articles.  This topic is certainly getting a lot of buzz right now as we here in the U.S. actually celebrate National Telework Week (no kidding)!  And - believe it or not, I just read that  Best Buy, Inc. is suspending their ROWE program.

WorldatWork also published last year, two surveys on this topic.  The Survey on Workplace Flexibility (covering all forms of flexibility) and Telework 2011: A Special Report shows the popularity, support and benefits to business.  I believe that all flexible work arrangements will continue to grow.  The key is to make sure there is a good reason to do it for both business and employee and to develop a culture that understands the need for flexibility.  When you get there - everyone can adjust to circumstances more appropriately.

Stay tuned for another blog about some programs that really work

Tue March 5, 2013 1:42 PMReport Abuse
Thomas Springfield
Global HR Operations AA
Member Since: 2/1/2013
Comments: 1

I viewed Ms Mayer's decision more as a generational shift in management style. The X generation prefers to work in teams with lots of collaboration, bringing down the walls one could say. In addition, organisations that are performing can easily allow for telecommuting, but Yahoo is not on that list. The pendulum is swinging back some, and in my opinion, some positions / industries will no longer align with telecommuting.

Sat March 2, 2013 6:30 AM (edited 3/2/2013) Report Abuse
Frank Giancola
Researcher Writer
Member Since: 12/1/2004
Comments: 250

According to a 2008 survey of SHRM members:

Organizations that formally offer telecommuting from a satellite location or telecommuting from other locations deem this flexible work arrangement to be very successful. Of the organizations that formally offer telecommuting benefits/practices, 32% cited an increased productivity rate for telecommuters. It could be that employees who telecommute work the hours that are convenient for them and consequently go the extra mile for their organizations.

Forty-two percent of HR professionals reported that absenteeism rate of telecommuters dropped.

 An overwhelming majority of HR professionals (85%) reported that in the next five years, telecommuting will likely be a more common practice for organizations than it is today. In addition, 43% of HR professionals believe that in the next five years, a larger proportion of the workforce at their organization will be telecommuting.


Another SHRM survey shows that 57% of companies offer telecommuting programs.

 Also, according a 2012 BLS survey, 54 million workers were employed as managers and professionals, 25 million were employed in service occupations, and 33 million were employed in sales and office occupations, including 17 million  who were in office and administrative support occupations. It doesn't appear that a vast majority of jobs in America are non-exempt, as previously noted.




Fri March 1, 2013 10:00 AMReport Abuse
E Brennan
Senior Associate
Member Since: 4/19/1979
Comments: 590

A few more temperate articles:

That last link contains some very interesting comments from Google about the limitations of telework.  It is indeed a viable option at times, but not always.  Hate to even think about the nightmares creates for nonexempt telework.  And remember, the vast majority of all positions employed in America are nonexempt. 

Thu February 28, 2013 7:42 AMReport Abuse
Frank Giancola
Researcher Writer
Member Since: 12/1/2004
Comments: 250

Another recent article on telecommuting:

The ballooning costs of commuting and growing traffic congestion show the time is ripe for employers to commit to offering expanded telecommuting and flexible work options, according to workforce analysts.

“Right now, a very small fraction of the nation’s workers who could viably work from home on a regular basis are actually doing so,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting group based in Chicago. “By not expanding the use of telecommuting, employers are negatively affecting the environment, worker productivity, job satisfaction and, most importantly, their bottom lines.”

For rest of article, click on the following:


Wed February 27, 2013 4:32 PMReport Abuse
E Brennan
Senior Associate
Member Since: 4/19/1979
Comments: 590

Name-calling attracts attention but rarely communicates much of value.  Here http://www.hanselman.com/blog/BeingARemoteWorkerSucksLongLiveTheRemoteWorker.aspx is a much more nuanced commentary from a remote-working Microsofter.  There are pros and cons and no one solution is universally appropriate. 

Wed February 27, 2013 9:08 AMReport Abuse
Frank Giancola
Researcher Writer
Member Since: 12/1/2004
Comments: 250


Excerpts below from Maureen Dowd's NYT column, Get Off Your Cloud.

When Marissa Mayer became queen of the Yahoos last summer, she was hailed as a role model for women.       

The 37-year-old supergeek with the supermodel looks was the youngest Fortune 500 chief executive. And she was in the third trimester of her first pregnancy. Many women were thrilled at the thought that biases against hiring women who were expecting, or planning to be, might be melting.       

A couple months later, it gave her female fans pause when the Yahoo C.E.O. took a mere two-week maternity pause. She built a nursery next to her office at her own expense, to make working almost straight through easier.

Almost two months after her son, Macallister, was born, Mayer irritated some women again when she bubbled at a Fortune event that “the baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be.”

Many women were appalled at the Yahoo news, noting that Mayer, with her penthouse atop the San Francisco Four Seasons, her Oscar de la Rentas and her $117 million five-year contract, seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life.

Maybe as Mayer rejuvenates “the grandfather” of Internet companies, as she calls Yahoo, she needs the energy and synergy of a start-up mentality.       

She seems to believe that enough employees are goofing off at home that she should bring them off the cloud and into the cubicle. But she should also be sympathetic to the very different situation of women — and men — struggling without luxurious layers of help.       

Mayer has a nursery next to the executive suite. But not everyone has it so sweet.