50 Shades of Telecommuting

If there’s any lesson to be learned from all the brouhaha over Marissa Mayer, it’s not whether we should allow employees to telecommute. It’s that we’re incapable of having a meaningful conversation about people, technology, and policy. Gosh, it seems like yesterday, we were discussing whether a pregnant woman can be a CEO.

There’s no debate. Telecommuting can and does work. The enabling technologies are robust enough to support it, and there are plenty of successful companies that allow it. Yahoo! evidently isn’t one of them. People were abusing the policy, network logs proved this. Whether it’s from home, or the office, if people are blowing off work, they need to get to the root of the problem.

Personally, I’m ambivalent about telecommuting. I know I can do it, but not 100% of the time. Some of the work I do needs to be done in long stretches of time without distractions. Other times, I need to be around other people to make informed decision. I also enjoy other peoples’ company.

Here’s a short list of questions to ask yourself about telecommuting policies:

  1. Do you trust your employee? If you don’t think they’ll work at home, what makes you think they’ll work at the office?
  2. Is the telecommuter resourceful? Will they troubleshoot or call when they experience technical difficulties, or  just use it as an excuse to not work?
  3. Is the telecommuter trying to produce something such as a document or design? Maybe the office is too distracting.
  4. Are they trying to get work done, or just want to work from home? Maybe they don’t have enough to do.
  5. Does an employee’s productivity improve when they have flexibility? Some people actually do more work when they get to choose when and how it gets done.
  6. Do you prefer results or action? If you insist on people being on site 9-5, Monday through Friday, they will find a way to look busy.
  7. Would you consider yourself a control freak? Remember, these are adults. If you treat them as such they will act like one.

Telecommuting isn’t an appropriate option for everybody or every job. Instead, we should be looking at what positive things does it enable in the employee, not the same old one-size-fits-all policy sledgehammer.