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Kalika Sharma

The Pattern-finding Problem-solver

Telecommuting: A Situation or a Personality?

When Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, placed a ban on working from home, the issue of telecommuting was discussed from various angles – social, economic, and environmental. Telecommuters at Yahoo were not only slacking off but also supposedly taking up other work on the side. In this scenario, maybe it was a pretty good reason to put a stop to telecommuting. On the flip side, Marissa Mayer was criticized for having a nursery in her office while banning working from home, thereby denying the employees time spent with their families. Also, purely from an environmental point of view, all the Yahoo employees on the road to office would produce larger amounts of CO2 emissions, and pollute the world further.

Well, we could discuss this “situation” at length. But what I’d like to propose is that the telecommuter is not simply a person who works from home, but is a particular kind of person – a personality – who thrives in the work-from-home set up. Ask that very same person to work in an office, and they would probably do well there too, but they might be less productive overall and would have a worse work-life balance. Can someone develop the personality to be a telecommuter? Perhaps. It’s certainly is a futuristic skill set to aspire to. I believe telecommuting is a sustainable option for the future because it requires a smaller carbon footprint and creates less pollution. However, the telecommuter should be identified and the team built with care. This is what I’ve found from my experience in my own team of telecommuters.

  • Building a telecommuting team should be done from a very early stage and it seems to work. Perhaps at Yahoo the telecommuters were never built together as a team from the start?
  • Excellent communication skills, organization skills, and most importantly, being proactive in everything you do are very basic needs of the telecommuter’s personality.
  • Telecommuting shouldn’t mean that you are completely out of sight! You meet periodically and reconnect those team bonds that keep you going for a few more months. Again, that seems to work with our team.
  • A certain level of professionalism and discipline that comes from experience of working for a few years with a decent track record really helps make the professional telecommuter personality.
  • If the job calls for travel, it is less demanding to be on call for telecommuters who haven’t spent too much energy on a daily commute.
  • Coming back to the Yahoo scenario, let’s assume that the work-family balance and world pollution were not top priorities for Yahoo at the time. What was, was employee productivity. While the telecommuter’s productivity is in question, a study by CISCO shows that telecommuters experience “higher rates of productivity, work-life flexibility, and overall satisfaction.” It might not have been the right choice for Yahoo at that point in time. And it may not be the right choice for all employees. Google for example, allows its employees to work from home on a case by case basis. Finally, after the work from home ban at Yahoo, Tweets from Yahoo’s competitors tried to woo the Yahoo employees into their company: "Hey #Yahoos: if you're being forced to quit come work with us @intridea. We all work from home!" So while there might still be enough situations for telecommuters to be present, the need of the hour is the telecommuting personality.

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