A recent research showed that those who engage in telecommuting tend to have a dip in their performance compared to regular workers who go to the office and collaborate face-to-face with their co-employees. The interest in this research was largely influenced by an internal memo issued by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, which prohibits workers to work from their homes.
Mayer cited that Yahoo workers need to follow the directive for Yahoo to become the best place to work, communicate and collaborate about ideas and projects. But there seemed to be two contradicting points regarding the performance of telecommuters; and Mayer has received flak for this decision, especially from Yahoo workers with a flexible time contract.
Although Ben Waber of consulting firm Sociometric Solutions said that working from home for more than one day in a week can affect your performance, the same research didn’t hold true for those whose jobs primarily deal with people outside the office. And yet, he quickly clarified in the report posted on CNET that people perform better if they frequently have face-to-face communication with others.
Waber argued that face-to-face communication matters specifically for jobs that require you to collaborate with your co-workers. He said that although there is much development in digital tools that will allow us to even see each other and hold meetings via the Internet, nothing beats being able to see your co-worker face-to-face.
He added that even tasks that somehow feel independent will benefit from face-to-face communication. Waber concluded that digital tools are only great for simple collaboration; but that the more complicated the collaboration become, the need for face-to-face communication increases.
Another School of Thought
There’s another branch of this thought, however. Kathleen Christensen, program director for Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Working Longer program, tagged researchers as “laggards” and not necessarily leaders in creating and establishing trends.
She said that there are existing surveys of employees which showed improved job satisfaction and reduced turnover for people in the telecommuting industry. She added that the surveys clearly showed an increase in autonomy and productivity, and a decrease in stress for the workers.
Christensen argued that researchers who said that telecommuting decreases the performance of the workers simply haven’t caught up on the recent improvement of collaboration technology such as video conferencing, instant messaging and enterprise social networks.
Also, there seemed to be a general agreement that workers save more money, time and energy when they can simply work from home. It also allows them to attend to other matters as opposed to being confined inside the office. Working from home or from a remote location develops multi-tasking abilities. They are not simply confined in a single room, doing a single project and talking with the same people.
The research on the poor performance of telecommuters seemed to be a backward step for a society that is now being primarily connected by the Internet and other digital communication means. Sure, telecommuting may not be the ideal setup for most companies but as Christensen said, it reduces stress and thereby makes workers more productive.