Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer touched off a firestorm when she snuffed out Yahoo’s telecommuting program. Mayer’s decision provides an excellent case study for students receiving both traditional and online organizational management degrees. Does telecommuting have a negative effect on teamwork in every workplace or is telecommuting wrong for Yahoo because of the company’s fragmented culture? By following some important management practices, you can make your company’s telecommuting program flourish.
Management Tip #1: Trust, But Verify
In the past, many telecommuters used spreadsheets to tabulate and submit their time weekly. Unfortunately, even the best employee suffers from memory gaps and may not fill in a timesheet accurately. If you want to closely track employee time, then use a Web-based application with a matching mobile phone app so employees can track time even when they’re away from their desktops.
Even better, don’t track employee time at all. Instead, follow up by checking employee metrics. What you want employees to accomplish depends on your business type, but if employees aren’t meeting metrics then they should lose the privilege of working from home. Many critics argue Mayer’s solution for Yahoo is a blanket solution that doesn’t provide exceptions for employees who are performing well.
Management Tip #2: Provide the Right Infrastructure
According to Fortune,90 percent of Cisco’s workers telecommute regularly. In fact, the average employee telecommutes two days per week. The company holds virtual meetings using video, collaboration and live-chat technology. They’ve also embraced proprietary social media tools and desktop softphones to allow real-time collaboration between employees.
The point is not to endorse Cisco’ s model for your telecommuting infrastructure. Instead, the point is to make sure that your employees have reliable and secure tools for accessing your network from multiple locations. Provide the best technology tools to keep your telecommuters functioning efficiently.
Management Tip #3: Keep Your Team Cohesive
Melissa Mayer’s memo to Yahoo employees said that the company needed to be “one Yahoo.” To her executive team, that oneness meant physically being together. However, managers can keep their teams cohesive in other ways besides requiring all of them to be in the building.
Setting up weekly meetings through video conferencing, for example, keeps employees accountable and collaborative. Also, managers who provide direct feedback to employees on a regularly scheduled basis can also motivate employees to stay engaged. Just as they would in the physical office, managers should keep their reports focused on the team’s goals. When each member feels engaged in the success of the whole, then he or she is less likely to slack off.
Management Tip #4: Set Individualized Goals for Telework
Some people who have extensive experience with your organization will work from home on large-scale projects with minimal supervision. Other employees who are newer, either to the company or to a certain project, may need more intensive supervision. Make sure you know your employees well enough to provide the right amount of guidance. If you review their performance often, then you can suggest more supervision or less supervision depending on their performance and their comfort level. Strike a balance between laissez-faire and micromanagement.
Management Tip #5: Know Your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Cisco claims to save $277 million per year by allowing employees to telecommute. Certainly, you can save money on items like office space and overhead. Don’t just know how much you’re saving; know how much you’re making. For example, if you are able to increase your talent pool because you don’t have a limited area from which to draw your workforce, then you could be gaining more productivity and quality than you would if you hired locally. Compute not only cost savings, but also revenue and productivity gains as you assess your total cost of ownership.
Perhaps Yahoo’s telecommuting culture was so broken everyone had to be brought back to the nest. However, multiple studies indicate that the solution has worked well for many other employers. Don’t toss the proverbial baby out with the bathwater until you’ve taken steps to improve the way you manage your telecommuting workforce.
About the Author
Tara Carnahan provides management consulting services to a variety of Fortune 500 companies. She specializes in helping companies to structure and deploy their virtual workforces.