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Yahoo, Best Buy Pull Plug On Telework


Want to be a reporter but hate the idea of a noisy newsroom?

Get in, get known, and get yourself assigned to a bureau. That’s how I worked it for years, first covering North Tampa, the state legislature and finally Washington for the Tampa Tribune. Which meant I was teleworking long before it became the rage, and before technology made it simple.

My goal? Have fun reporting and writing lots of stories, keep away from newsroom politics, and set my own agenda. The formula kept me in headlines for more than two decades.

Naturally some jobs are more tele-workable than others. You can’t reline brakes, bag groceries or operate on knees remotely. But there are plenty of jobs you can do, and the benefits from flexible work policies are pretty obvious.

  • Avoiding a rush-hour commute saves wear and tear on the car, the air, and your mental health.*
  • Studies say working from home cuts back on sick leave and attrition.*
  • And though some will argue, studies say telework increases productivity and collaboration.*

Lots of companies have robust telework policies, and Yahoo and Best Buy were once among them.

No more. Both ordered employees back to the office recently, with Best Buy mothballing its Results Only Work Environment shortly after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer declared, “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” ¹

There’s some speculation that eliminating or cutting back on telework is a backdoor way to trim the payroll. We’ll see if that’s the case. We’ll also see if Mayer or Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly will be able to demonstrate benefits from their corporate return to “all hands on deck.”

After years of bureau reporting, I wound up a manager in another organization. Not too long ago I managed more than 40 employees. My view of flexible work policies changed a bit, though I still come down more on the side of the teleworkers. I stand with those who feel:

  • Work is a lot more about what you do than where you do it;
  • That employees who perform well at the office do as well or better at home or at remote sites;
  • And that telework is a privilege, not a right. Abuse it, you lose it.

But I also get energy from being in the office. Chance meetings at the elevator or break room spawn ideas that lead to plans and worthwhile projects. And there’s also all that body language you miss in teleconferences, G-chat and the rest of what we’ve come up with to keep from seeing each other in person.

Mayer told the Yahoos that for the company to perform at its best, “we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

I’m not alone in thinking that a hybrid policy – say three days in the office and two at home – also keeps employees happy, productive and connected.

Where do you come down, and is there more to the companies’ new policy than meets the eye?

* Source: Global Workplace Analytics.

¹ Source CNNMoney.

More Info: CitrixOnline videoMobile Work Exchange.

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.


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14 Responses to "Yahoo, Best Buy Pull Plug On Telework"

  1. Marissa Curnutte says:

    I am a former journalist who LOVED being in the newsroom, but now that my new job has me working from home most days, I could ever give that flexibility up. I get so much work done and can work from anywhere when I’m traveling. Everything has its ups and downs and it’s interesting to see how the workplace is changing with the new tech-generation. Good story!

  2. Jon Haeffner says:

    Last year I worked for an animation studio in Manhattan, and for most of the year, I worked from my hometown, 6 hours away. Right away I was given the option to work remotely, so I wouldn’t have to move to the city, and out of 11 months of work, I was in the studio for only 3 and a half weeks. I loved being down in the city, working with amazing people and being a part of the energy there, but working remotely I was able to save a lot of money, knowing that the job had an end date. The flexibility and advantage of telework was fantastic, and I was always on (or ahead) of schedule, but it doesn’t beat being there working with everyone, sharing that energy. Granted, I loved my job, and everyone I worked with was awesome to be around, which not everyone can say about their work/workplace. I think it’s a mistake for Yahoo to eliminate the option altogether, a restriction or higher standards would be a smarter choice to implement that option if they’ve been having trouble. Best Buy also doing this? Not surprised. They’ve been doing everything possible to run themselves into the ground, and have treated their workforce poorly across the board for a long time.

  3. Strikes me that you’re the type of employee who would thrive in any environment, Marissa. Thanks for coming by, and glad you’re just as productive working from home as in the newsroom.

  4. I think you’re right on point, Jon. Soak up energy from colleagues at work, but have the flexibility to make your contribution from a home office. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Angela says:

    I believe a hybrid approach is best. Being in the office is great for collaboration and building relationships with your co-workers. However, I don’t think you need to be in your seat five days per week to accomplish that.

    Yahoo and Best Buy are both struggling to find success. I don’t really see how this will impact their bottom line. Unhappy employees equals less engagement and lower productivity. However, time will tell, I guess.

    The bottom line: As well-paying jobs become fewer and fewer, I anticipate we will continue to see setbacks on these types of incentives. I’m sure folks will leave based on this decision, but there’s 10 or more people behind them who would gladly take their place. Recruiting and retention becomes less of a concern for employers in a struggling economy.

  6. Stephanie Kenitzer says:

    Great post Steve. Personally I love teleworking but I agree there is energy and collaboration to be gained from being in an office. I often find in the PR world that being present and seen is critical to having leadership and others include you in the happenings of the organization thus making it easier for me to do my job. It’s a bit “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. So in teleworking, much more of the responsibility to stay connected, be productive, and perform rests with the employee working remotely. But it can be done – successfully. I like the idea of balance like you mentioned. A few days in, a few days remote. The remote days allow me to focus on writing, research, planning, big picture thinking without interruptions – other than the dog! 🙂 The days in the office are often used for collaboration, follow up, sharing. It’s a perfect mix. Regards Best Buy and Yahoo – both companies are struggling and looking for easy solutions to a complex problem that involves far more than just their employees. Only time will tell if their drastic action will prove beneficial.

  7. Judy B says:

    To be honest, I was always a BIG fan of telework until I started doing it A LOT! I miss the camaraderie that can only be found when you’re actually in the presence of coworkers. I miss the last-minute “hey, let’s grab a drink after work and talk through this project”. Sure … there are days when you need the uninterrupted, head-down time to really plow through a paper or presentation and just get it done, but in the end, I’m fast becoming a believer that telework should be limited to no more than one or two days a week. People need people, even in this day of social media and texting and online communication. Don’t believe it? See how far you get taking your dog to a local pub for happy hour after work next Tuesday.

  8. True, Angela, but losing institutional knowledge can also be bad for the company. Seems like the sudden move to no-flex might be part of a bigger problem that no one’s really talking about. Thanks for your comments, Angela.

  9. We’re agreed on the need to be present at least part of the time, Stephanie. It’s too easy for leadership to overlook those out of the line of sight. The mix is best, plus maybe one or two bring-your-dog-to-work days!

  10. Makes sense, Judy. I’d add that it takes particular skills to manage teleworkers as well. Performance plans (and reviews) should include a clear set of expectations with associated deadlines. And I agree: two days a week of TW seems like plenty.

  11. BK says:

    I think like most things the key is balance. There are clear advantages to working at home or having the flexibility to work from anywhere. There are also clear advantages to working close by your colleagues in the office. Depending on your job duties I think you find the right balance for you. The key is being mobile-ready so you have those flexible options available when you want them.

  12. Balance. Moderation. Symmetry. Right on point, Ben, thanks for your comments!

  13. Caleb Parker says:

    Good article Steve. I agree that a hybrid approach is the way to go for most companies. One size doesn’t fit all – what works for some team members may not work for other. The problem I see with the hybrid approach is that a company then pays for empty office space part of the time. Does a CEO want to pay for underutilized desk space so to give their employees the privilege of working remotely? Does he/she have a choice when talent expects a flexible working policy?

  14. stevepiacente says:

    Valid point, Caleb. The last place I worked is consolidating three locations into a building that would be very cramped if everyone showed up the same day. The idea is to have a certain percentage of employees teleworking each day. That (theoretically, anyway) will keep remote workers happy and building costs down. I realize it’s not practical for companies to simply move to smaller space, but it is one option to consider going forward. Thanks for your comments!

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