Working From Home: An Issue Of Trust

File:Marissa Mayer at TechCrunch 2012 II (crop).jpg

So, everyone’s all over Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to ban employees from working from home. Responses range from the (IMHO) unexpected (i.e. “Maybe she’s suffering from post-partum depression“) to hues and cries about how this is a step backward (and the “1980’s are calling for their work environment back”).

I, for one, am actually sympathetic to Yahoo!’s decision and think that the crux of the matter lies in their response (emphasis mine): “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home — this is about what is right for Yahoo!, right now.” Citing unnamed employees, Mashable reports that,

“Work ethic at Yahoo has deteriorated over time, and the new policy allows management to better monitor and inspire people at the office, the employees revealed. What’s more, it’s seen as beneficial if less productive staff chose to leave because of the policy, they added. Indeed, some workers have abused the work-at-home option to the point that they’ve founded startups while being on Yahoo’s payroll.”

My company currently provides a work from home option, which my colleagues and I definitely appreciate (well, actually, it’s more of a “work from anywhere” option, rather than just “from home”). For many of us, the option to work from anywhere really frees up a lot of time from commuting to work and struggling through traffic. In fact, with cloud-based productivity suites, access to work files, communication and collaboration is actually quite unhindered as well.

That being said, I do personally believe that a “human touch” and face-to-face interactions are vital to forming a strong workplace culture and environment.

At the end of the day, the option to work from home or anywhere else is really a step towards employee empowerment. This, of course, involves trust – which can always be open to abuse. In the case of Yahoo!, I understand that they were looking to manage those who were abusing the “work from home” option and address issues surrounding performance and productivity. When that trust is broken, remedial steps must be taken.

I think the approach to achieving a balance lies with addressing how a company looks at employee empowerment. It could be less about managing “presence” in the office and more about ensuring employees are responsible for their time and end-results, giving employees reasons to meet face-to-face (again, having strong company culture is severely underrated and often overlooked), and releasing them to work from anywhere, as necessary.

I intimated something along those lines when I spoke to a reporter about this (“Malaysian employees perplexed with Yahoo!’s work from home ban“):

Never mind working from home – with today’s technology, you can work from anywhere. Leigh Wong, head of communications at Microsoft Malaysia, said cloud-based productivity suites allows workers to access work files even from a continent away.

“This way, communication and collaboration are quite unhindered,” he said.

(…)

If more companies now are in support of working from home, what could have compelled Mayer to make such a move?

Wong said while working from home is a step towards employee empowerment, it involves trust that is open to abuse.

It is less about measuring presence in the office and more about ensuring employees are responsible for their time and end-results, he said.

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