Home or Office – Productivity?

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Two major Fortune 500 employers have made headlines recently by announcing that they are eliminating (or significantly reducing) opportunities for their employees to work remotely. Response to the announcements came quickly from business analysts and the mainstream media, speculating about the effect these decisions would have on the companies and their employees and how those effects might eventually impact the workforce in general.

Yahoo!® led the charge in February when CEO Marissa Mayer instructed her HR department to have all remote employees return to working in company offices. The reason given for the major policy change was that the company believes face-to-face employee interaction fosters a collaborative culture that can’t be developed among remote workers. A statement from the company said that they are not offering any broad industry view on working from home, but rather making a decision based on what is right for Yahoo!.

Just a few weeks later, electronics retailer Best Buy® announced changes to its policies about telcommuting. The company isn’t eliminating remote work across the board, but employees must consult with their managers to discuss whether the arrangement is working.

These policy shifts among high-profile members of corporate America have ignited an international debate about workplace flexibility. Some employees at both companies have hailed the changes as positive, saying that more collaboration and innovation will boost morale and nurture the company culture, but many believe working remotely allows greater productivity. Not everyone agrees that the distractions of an office are good for collaboration and efficiency.

With an increase of some 75% since 2005, the teleworker population is now a force to be reckoned with. Greater autonomy, technological support for collaboration, and a work culture that promotes work/life integration are expectations for many workers, particularly younger employees.

So, while Yahoo! and Best Buy wait to see how their changes play out, the discussion and examination of the value of remote work continues. Just exactly what the productivity oues and worker attitudes are in the long-term about these decisions remains to be seen.

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