The dust has settled a bit on the working-from-home issue which was stirred up about a month ago when Yahoo's 11,500 employees received an email from the HR department putting an end to “work-from-home arrangements” throughout the company. Apparently, Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, is trying to change a culture that had lost the nimbleness and creativity that it needs in order to compete in the world today. Whether you agree with this action or not, it is clear that she needed to do something about Yahoo’s workplace culture and reign in the behavior of some folks who were taking advantage of Yahoo’s work-at-home policy.
Unfortunately, the media debate quickly focused on the future of telecommuting and the plight of working-mothers rather than on the real issue which is creating a culture in which everyone is focused on innovation and results. Sometimes, to change culture, especially in a large, complex, global organization in a fast-changing industry, one has to exert greater control in the short-term to create a culture in which collaboration and teamwork will be how work is done in the long-term.
In a results oriented culture, how one works is determined by what one needs to achieve. If that goal can be achieved by working from home, then that could be an option. If achieving a particular performance goal is best done by face-to-face contact with other employees, then being in the office is probably the answer.
For example, if my work objective is to write code for a particular Web site transaction and I can write that code from home just as well as I can from the office, then maybe working from home is a good option for me. If my goal is to create a new look and feel for an online news service, and I need the creativity that comes from give and take with other employees, then I should be in the office.
The problem is not with working from home per se; the problem is how to achieve the intended results. To start with location without consideration for the performance goal is to put the proverbial cart before the horse.
If a CEO is concerned with how employees are using their time, then she needs to talk with her managers about helping these employees set goals and be accountable for achieving results. Often, employees are not clear about what is expected of them. In the absence of this specificity, they (like all of us) fill the void with their own ideas of what they should do and how they should do it (within a general policy). When their actions come into conflict with the goals of the organization, then leaders may have to institute controls on behavior until managers can shape the expectations of employees and create a culture that is aligned with intended outcomes.