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Allow Yahoo workers to work at home

By Ellen Ernst Kossek, Special to CNN
February 28, 2013 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told employees that they must work in the office or quit
  • Ellen Ernst Kossek: Mandating face time will not automatically lead to creativity, productivity
  • She says Yahoo happens to be a case of telework gone horribly wrong
  • Kossek: If a company implements telework in the right way, everyone benefits

Editor's note: Ellen Ernst Kossek is co- author of "CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age," and she is the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Management at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management.

(CNN) -- Marissa Mayer's announcement that Yahoo employees who work remotely must come in the office or quit has raised howls of criticism.

Her supporters defend her decision by pointing out that many Yahoo workers who work at home never came in and hid from management, and that her decree is a wake-up call to get focused on teamwork and innovation so that the company can get up to speed.

Mayer's reasoning makes some sense. But mandating face time will not automatically lead to creativity and collaboration. The key is establishing a culture of innovation and aligning talent and performance. Telework should not have to axed in the process.

A work-at-home mom defends Yahoo's Mayer

Ellen Ernst Kossek
Ellen Ernst Kossek

Yahoo happens to be a case of an out-of-control, work-at-home company. It's telework gone horribly wrong. Telework, in itself, does not hurt productivity. But telework, when implemented poorly, can be a problem. Telework is just one out of many management tools designed to make a company more attractive for hardworking employees.

Working from home doesn't necessarily hurt productivity. If management takes the time to implement it effectively and link it to accountability, then telework benefits both the company and employees. It can build trust and promote healthy work-life balance among employees. However, management must have the courage to get rid of deadwood and fire telework abusers.

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Employees commit to an organization because they buy into company goals and feel valued, not because they are ordered to sit at their desks. Yahoo may have long-term trust and morale issues if it continues this policy. Abolishing telework is like canceling the prom because some immature people spiked the punch bowl. It is not going to get Yahoo out of its doldrums. It may result in exodus, as talents leave for employers who do not see work-life flexibility at war with job performance.

Opinion: CEO is right: Yahoo workers must show up

Mayer's calling all remote workers into the office raises some unspoken prevailing cultural assumptions. Workers who have control over where, when and how they work are often perceived as less productive. Giving workers flexibility to integrate personal life with work is viewed as antithetical to boosting performance.

Yahoo ends telecommuting
Controversy grows over Yahoo ban

Yet studies have shown that all workers value control over personal and work time. This is not just a mom's child care issue or a dad's elderly care issue. It is a people issue. From millennials to Gen Xers to boomers, men to women, returning veterans to disabled employees -- having flextime and telework can make a huge difference in people's lives as they juggle work and life.

Adapting to new ways of working is a competitive advantage in today's working environment. Organizations should realize that not everyone works best in the same way. Some people can handle text messages from work, family, news and Facebook 24/7. Others work better at 5 a.m. or late at night. And then there are people who desperately need time to focus and detach from work to get creative.

Policy riles workers everywhere

Productivity does not equal face time. What remote workers should do is set clear performance goals and regular times for meetings and calls with core teams. Telework can build loyalty since employees can better manage their family life -- something that everyone can appreciate. And sometimes, they end up working more hours that they don't clock in.

So when should a company draw a line on working remotely or in the office? When management is no longer sure who works for them or how to coordinate a team, and employees always place their own interests over the company.

Yahoo needs to ask employees how to improve productivity and creativity without having to sacrifice telework. Given that it's harder than ever nowadays to separate the boundary between work from life, does Yahoo really think that requiring that employees to work in the office is the right solution? Let's hope Mayer's decision is temporary.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ellen Ernst Kossek.

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