Telecommuting – a phony issue

Jay Greene has an interesting article on Cnet.com today: “Does telecommuting really reduce employee performance? Academic research suggests that working more than one day a week away from the office, for jobs that require a lot of collaboration with colleagues, can cut into performance.”

As you can tell from the title, it appears to support Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to terminate telecommuting.  A couple of points, though. Mayer’s decision was justified on the grounds that most telecommuters were “goofing off,” not, for example, logging on to VPN. And second, if you read down through the article, you find that what the research really says is that telecommuting requires an appropriate organizational climate.

In particular, successful telecommuting requires a high degree of Einheit — mutual trust. For one thing, all members of the organization must be rewarded, and believe that they will be rewarded, on their contributions to achieving the organization’s goals and objectives, not on their ability to suck up to the boss at work. Want to make a bet on the situation at Yahoo?

As the article concludes:

In the end, companies that do well with remote workers are the ones that are most willing to take the chance that it will work and support employees when they are toiling away at home.

“There’s no question that technology makes it possible,” Christensen said. “But the culture has to support it.”

My guess is that Boyd’s “blitzkrieg climate” (Fingerspitzengefühl, etc.) will work nicely. As anyone who has ever tried to implement lean/maneuver warfare knows, however, it requires strong leadership.

On the other hand, if you know what you’re doing and get the climate going, the vast majority of people will choose to work from where they can best accomplish their missions.

2 thoughts on “Telecommuting – a phony issue

  1. Telecommuting also requires discipline … I’ve had online access at home for work since March of 1970. Early on, at one point I was asked about my working so much since I was using more computer time than the whole rest of the organization put together (back when processor use was accounted for and charges generated … even if it was funny money) … with implication that maybe I should use less computer time. I responded by offering to work less; they never brought up the subject again.

    Part of it is periodic Dilbert jokes about working at the office is consumed with (unproductive) meetings. There is also various references in the Real Programmers tome about real programmers never work 9-5 … if you see them in the morning, it is because they worked all night (being able to concentrate and avoid unproductive distractions).

    • lhw0,

      Thanks much!

      Telecommuting also requires discipline …

      Indeed it does. Fortunately a high level of (self-)discipline is an output of Boyd’s climate.

      I love the story about computer time. Remember how Boyd got into trouble at Eglin?

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