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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to ban working from home has resurfaced a longstanding debate: are remote workers more or less productive than their on-site counterparts? 

Critics have been quick to retort that working from home actually boosts productivity, as there are fewer distractions, and makes employees more engaged, as they must try harder to connect. Mayer’s move certainly goes against the recent trend of offering flexible work schedules: 63 percent of employers now allow at least some of their employees to work part of their regularly paid hours at home on an occasional basis, up from 34 percent in 2005, according to the Families and Work Institute’s 2012 National Study of Employers.

But proponents of the move agree with Yahoo’s argument that in-office collaboration can yield valuable dividends: As Yahoo's HR chief Jackie Reses wrote in her memo to employees, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” (Hey wait…this sounds like informal or social learning.) Perhaps it’s not so black and white – there’s a time and purpose for both working at home and in the office. “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm, told the New York Times. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”

Whether you have just a few employees working from home or large portions of your staff, here are three rules of thumb for successfully managing remote talent: 

1. Give WFHers the Tools They Need 

The right office tools – multiple computer screens, ergonomic keyboards, quality speakers – can make a significant difference in productivity. To ensure this level of productivity at home, equip your remote workers with the tools they need and want. “Hardware is cheap and labor is expensive, so don’t penny pinch on tools,” writes Small Business Computing’s Carla Schroder. Schroder says a stable phone service is important, along with offering IT support. To establish a more seamless workflow, migrate to cloud-based tools—they eliminate compatibility issues and allow employees anywhere, anytime access to information and communication.

2. Overcommunicate – But Not Through Email

Communication is more important then ever when employees are dispersed. And it turns out that email – the de-facto method of communicating at work – isn’t so great for communicating from home. “Email can’t easily distinguish co-workers from friends, strangers or people who want to sell you investments in Africa. It’s not much good for organizing information by type or subject. And it’s a horrible way to conduct a rapid-fire exchange,” says business publication Quartz.

Try using other tools to talk with colleagues to replicate that in-office feel, such as instant messaging and video conferencing. This is where an internal social network will come in handy for one-on-one and group chats.

3. Prioritize Face-to-Face Time

Without face-to-face interaction, managers of remote workers need to build trust in other ways. This includes being available and reachable – employees should feel they can get in touch with their manager when they need. This may mean being flexible in terms of when and how employees communicate, and having patience when there are communication difficulties.

“Trust is particularly important in distance relationships,” management consultant Debra Dinnocenzo, author of “How to Lead from a Distance,” told CBS News. “You build trust through actions that demonstrate reliability, integrity and familiarity.” Dinnocenzo's other tip: schedule face-to-face time on a regular basis.


In a case of good timing, next week is Telework Week 2013.  Where does your organization come down on telecommuting?

 

Photo credit: Can Stock