One of the biggest trends in the enterprise IT sector for a while now has been the rise of flexible and remote working. With connectivity and mobile technologies more capable than ever and companies able to take advantage of a range of cloud-based software applications such as NetSuite that can be accessed from anywhere with a web connection, it’s never been easier to work from outside the office.
Because moving towards this is a direction many businesses are taking, there was more than a little bit of surprise recently when it was reported that one of the world’s most high-profile technology companies is heading in the opposite direction. Yahoo!, under the instruction of chief executive Marissa Mayer, has issued orders to its remote workforce that they will be expected back at office-based desks by June.
In an internal email, Ms Mayer wrote: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”
But one other reason may be that Ms Mayer had concerns about the productivity of her workforce. According to Business Insider, the executive had been consulting the company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) logs to find out how often staff were checking in and was not satisfied by what she found.
However, the move has sparked much debate about the merits of allowing remote working and whether or not it’s a good idea. Supporters of Ms Mayer’s decision argue that face-to-face communication is clearer and more effective than telecommuting, whereas opponents counter that giving employees the choice boosts morale and fosters a more productive workplace.
Virgin boss Richard Branson was one voice to come out in favour of remote working, writing on his blog that in 30 years, offices will be a thing of the past. He said: “In today’s world, I do not think it is effective or productive to force your employees one way or another. Choice empowers people and makes for a more content workforce.”
It was also noted by Information Week that not offering a remote working solution could have harmful consequences for Yahoo! in the long-term, particularly when it comes to ensuring they can always have the best workforce.
Martha Heller, president of Heller Search Associates, told the publication is is likely that the firm is going to lose workers as a result of the move, as many individuals value the flexibility of being able to work from home when needed. She noted people’s lives are complicated in the modern environment and anything that can be done to improve the work-life balance is beneficial.
Information Week’s 2013 US Salary Survey also revealed how high a value many people place on being able to work flexibly. Although telecommuting was only ranked as 11th out of 24 factors, 43 per cent highlighted flexible work schedules as a priority.
Editor-in-chief of the publication Laurianne McLaughlin said: “In my mind, issuing an overall ban on telecommuting, as Mayer has done, is a tremendous disadvantage for IT managers trying to attract and retain talent.”
She added the job of IT directors is to provide the right tools that help get the most out of a workforce, so people should think very carefully about blanket edicts such as prohibiting home working, which may significantly limit an organisation’s flexibility.
But if you are going to allow flexible and home working, making sure it is as easy as possible for these personnel to perform tasks and keep in touch with their colleagues based elsewhere is vital, particularly in organisations where communication and collaboration is integral.
This was highlighted by Ms Mayer as another key reason for Yahoo!’s decision, but what could businesses do to make remote collaboration and communication easier to avoid having to remove home working options altogether?
Information Week noted you need a clear plan to make this a success. While it highlighted tools such as Yammer as highly beneficial, it’s important staff aren’t just left to their own devices to come up with the most efficient ways of using the technology.
With solutions such as Box for remote collaboration and Google Apps for Business offering IM and videoconferencing options, it’s easy to find the technology you need to make remote working a success. but it’s then up to you to make sure its being used effectively.
Having the ability to audit access times and activities and setting up alerts if certain criteria aren’t met -such as a logging in before a certain time and other key performance indicators – is critical to ensuring the business doesn’t suffer from a lack of control and oversight. If using these tools is what alerted Ms Mayer to issues with home workers, it could also be useful for you to make sure your staff are as productive as possible.
Has Yahoo!’s decision changed the way you look at remote working? Leave a comment or get in touch.