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Most readers favor policies that permit telecommuting

Rochester Business Journal
March 22, 2013

Roughly 85 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say employees should be allowed to work from home when possible.

Yahoo Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer sparked a national debate recently when she decided that all telecommuting employees must work from a Yahoo office, beginning in June. "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings," a company memo said. "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."

According to published reports, Best Buy and Bank of America Corp. also have tightened work-at-home policies. Yet Census Bureau research shows that the number of telecommuters—many of whom need to care for children or aging parents—has increased over the past decade.

Fifty-seven percent of Snap Poll respondents say their companies allow telecommuting, compared with 30 percent whose companies do not.

Supporters say the advantages of allowing employees to work remotely—such as improved productivity and morale—outweigh the drawbacks.

Three out of four respondents say the option of working from home improves employee retention and morale, compared with 8 percent who disagree.

Forty-nine percent say working from home increases productivity, compared with 22 percent who disagree.

And when asked if working from home hurts work quality, 58 percent disagreed, compared with 15 percent who agree with that statement.

Most respondents did say, however, that working in an office improves communication and collaboration.

Roughly 725 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted March 18 and 19.

When possible, should employees be allowed to work from home?
Yes: 85%
No: 15%

Does your employer or own business allow telecommuting?
Yes: 57%
No: 30%
Not employed/own solo business: 13%

COMMENTS:

I often work from home as I can access voicemail and email virtually anywhere. In fact, my office voicemail “away” message is, "I am unavailable right now, but the next time I go out, I'll call you back!" My co-workers agree that they are more productive, especially when I'm not there.
—Bill Lanigan

In many offices in which I work or visit, people do not talk or otherwise communicate personally, except at meetings, which can be notoriously unproductive. Instead, they email or text each other even though they are a few feet apart. Working from home provides the same communication, avoids commute time, hazard and fuel consumption. Let's do it!
—Hutch Hutchison, In T'Hutch Ltd.

Working from home is considered a privilege to those who have demonstrated a strong work ethic. During bad weather, we prefer that Tipping Point Media & PR employees work from home for safety reasons, so we close the office.
—Michelle Ashby

It is a very small percentage of jobs that can even be considered as eligible to be done from home and only a small percentage of employees that would perform well in that situation. It becomes a management challenge in most circumstances.
—Dave Scudder

Working from home is great for some careers, but not in the architectural world. My wife was a senior exec at a Fortune 500 corporation and worked from Boulder and Rochester 10 or 12 hours a day plus weekends. It worked fine for her.
—Daniel Mossien, architect

The quality of work done by an employee via a telecommuting position depends upon the specifics of the job, the employee and the expectations of the employer. In cases where the type of work may best be done from a remote location, a telecommuting opportunity could have significant advantages for the employer and the employee. The employer saves significantly on physical plant/overhead charges, and the employee can work from a comfortable home location without the need to spend an hour or more every day traveling to work. (Telecommuting) may also allow the employee to reside in a location with lower cost-of-living expenses. The devil is in the details, however, with some jobs and employees being more or less appropriate for this type of work opportunity.
—Laura Weller-Brophy

I support working from home but find periodic "live" interaction a crucial part of maintaining a long-term productive, high-quality relationship.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin, president and creative director, Phinney Rankin Inc.

I'm field-based, so my day starts at 8 a.m. when I check in with the office in Rochester and it goes from there. I enjoy the freedom, flexibility and the insulation from petty office politics but miss the camaraderie and water-cooler chats. Pros and cons to both.
—Lester Wilson, Syracuse

Within certain circumstances, working from home on a specific project can be beneficial for both employee and employer, but as a general rule when I hear employees say that they can work better at home without interruptions, I gently remind them that the "interruptions" are their work.
—Jim DeVoe, president and CEO of Seniorsfirst

Working from home can provide good benefits for the employee and employer. With the right individual they can be more productive at home than being at work with all the interruptions. Job responsibilities and the self-discipline of the employee determine how effective working from home can be versus being in the office.
—Mike Hogan, Information Packaging

Certainly there are two sides to this coin. As a business consultant, my personal work output is highest when I am in my home office, but collaboration, communication and innovation are most effectively served when I am on site with my client. One size will not fit all.
—David Lamb, Rochester

Working from home isn't for everyone. Some people find they are much more productive, while others are more easily distracted and work better with their peers around. At the end of the day, management needs to work with staff to determine the best fit for everyone. Often, a blended approach works best but it is very dependent on the role and personality of the employee.
—Cheryl Nelan, CMIT Solutions

This is a situation-specific issue. Shame on the RBJ for asking this as a "one-size-fits-all" question. Certain circumstances lend themselves to telecommuting, others do not. Would you want the human resources manager to work from their home office? If their primary function was recruiting and phone screening job applicants, that might be fine. If their primary function was counseling poor-performing employees, it would probably not be a good idea. Unless the employees being counseled were scattered in sales territories across the U.S.A. So, whether or not telecommuting is beneficial depends.
—D. Kennedy Webster

I'm going out on a limb here. I don't think all jobs are created equal. There are ways to earn money that doesn't require attendance to an office or specific facility. On the other hand, there are jobs that simply can't be done outside of the facility at which you're employed. It's pretty obvious that individual companies have to make the determination of what's best to serve their own vision. Just like people are different and individual, companies are different and unique. A company has to be smart with whom they hire, and individuals have to be smart about where they chose to work. The onus on a company is to find someone qualified to do the work required that fits into the company culture. The onus on a person looking for employment is to look for a position at which they're qualified at a company that is compatible with their personal goals and lifestyle. Needless to say, most of the time there is compromise on both parts. The bottom line is that the company sets the job requirements and it is the employee’s choice whether or not to work at that company. A lot of whining over nothing.
—Lou Romano

Allowed? Allowed by whom? Why should a private employer and employee have to ask for permission?
—Jeff Luellen

Some people take advantage of working from home and ruin it for everyone. In order for it to work, it needs to be closely monitored, and employees need to treat their home as they would their office, and freely publish their home phone number for anyone to call them whenever they wish. If you are responsible for a child while at home, that is not working from home!
—Natalie Summers

I do agree that working at home five days a week might detract from brainstorming with others, but two to three days a week does wonders in many positions. At times, there are many interruptions at work. Concentration in a quiet home may be better.
—Katie Crane

This is another one of those questions that are fraught with emotions and is best left to the individual companies to decide what is or is not best for the company, not the individual!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

I do believe that telecommuting is a great option for self-starters and independent folk. A phone and a computer are all one needs to avoid that daily commute.
—Tom Wahl Jr.

I think flexibility and the ability to work from home is important to maintaining sanity in our busy lives. However, I think that there's an overwhelming benefit to working in the office and creating opportunities for communication and collaboration face-to-face. If I had to choose one, I would choose working in the office only. However, I hope that most employers will be able to offer both. Flexibility and the ability to work from home can make some high performing employees even more effective.
—Joy Ryen Plotnik, Genesee Valley Trust Co.

I think what we have observed in our office reflects the findings of the most current research on this topic. Employees are highly productive when working remotely, but it's more difficult to foster innovation and collaboration when workers are not together in the office. Our office has what I consider to be the ideal in scheduling: professional staff work remotely one day a week, and work in the office the other days.
—Deborah Emerson, Central NY Library Resources Council

Working from home should be on the table if it works for the particular employer, employee, job and project.
—Eric Bourgeois

I find myself sometimes taking work home with me to play "catch up" but if I would not be able to perform my job duties working from home on a full time basis. I am envious of the employees who have this option because I did miss quite a bit of my children's lives working 50 hours away from home not to mention the time it takes to commute.
—Nicole Taft

We have a blended approach here. Allowing work from home reduces sick days, and improves health. It allows parents to accommodate special scheduling conflicts for children, doctor’s visits, and easily make up time they would spend during a normal 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. day in office hours in off hours, keeping productivity high and worker morale high. Additionally, by requirement, some of our work is off-hours. Allowing employees to do this work from home saves on travel and allows more scheduling flexibility. On the other hand, what we do is very collaborative and requires a physical presence to work together from a teamwork point of view, so office time is also important. A blended approach works best, allowing telecommuting to be a benefit for both the employer and the employee.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.

Working at home should be an agreement between the employee and the employer depending on mutual needs, as has done all along. General rules should not be imposed.
—Ingo H Leubner

I think that allowing employees the ability to work from home, when warranted, is a smart direction for the employer to go. I also think that, when properly monitored, it is a very viable alternative to the office environment.
—Frank Muto, president, FJM Inc.

Marissa Mayer's dramatic policy change was more likely an attempt to redefine her company's culture than an indictment of telecommuting. Working in close quarters with colleagues facilitates communication, but many workers are just as effective off-site than on-site. When implemented properly, telecommuting is a terrific benefit for employers and employees alike.
—Mike Bergin, president, Chariot Learning

It is too distracting for employees to maintain a consistent work ethic while working at home. While at the workplace, productivity should be greater and will also help the employee because they will be able to separate home from work—giving them a greater feeling of accomplishment at both places.
—Matt Nicodemus, High Performance HVAC

For all these statements: "It depends!" It depends on the individual, the type of work and the home environment. I've seen cases where working at home produces superior results and conserves fuel and time, too. Working at home should be allowed conditionally where feasible, with meticulous attention to security protocol, and where it benefits productivity, morale, quality, and communication.
—Sally Howard, Solara Concepts

Working from home more than half of the work time could result in isolation and disconnection from the entire staff. We allow limited work from home, which does in fact increase productivity. We did once allow a staffer to work from home exclusively, and that was not successful.
—Jim DeLuca, general manager, Abundance Cooperative Market

From personal out-of-office working experience, I can vouch that most employers recognize and reward out-of-office employees who produce quality in a timely fashion and are available when needed.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P Shea Agency, Inc. (585)225-4400.

I have worked from home and had employees who worked from home. The answer to all these questions is: it depends on the individual, the job, the company and numerous other factors. I worked from home as early as 1968, due to distance from the office. I found it was necessary to visit the office once a week, to stay in touch with everything that was going on. In another job, I worked from home for seven years because the office was 300 miles away. I moved to an executive suite situation to end the isolation. My productivity went up significantly just being in working environment with other adults. More recently I have managed a sales force where people worked from home or the office, as fit the situation for that day. The Internet helps productivity tremendously. However, I found that it was best if everyone was in the office at least once a week, on average. Also, you need to have honest, motivated workers. I have worked closely with some very large companies and seen that large scale work from home is a bad policy. Basically, good workers will produce good work in either environment and poor workers will perform poorly. Working from home allows poor workers to perform badly.
—Dennis Ditch, Delta Square

Many supervisors do not want their employees to work from home because they do not know exactly what the people do and they do not trust their people. When a supervisor knows what output to expect, s/he should not care where the work is done.
—Donald A. Dinero, TWI Learning Partnership

3/22/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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