“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” That’s an excerpt from the leaked internal memo of Yahoo! revoking the work-from-home option that has generated widespread debate since it was first announced.
The Internet behemoth decided to withdraw the facility in order to increase one-on-one interaction among employees and to create a larger collaborative culture, just like its competitor, Google. However, not everyone is in agreement! In fact, recent research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the US states that allowing employees to work-from-home benefits companies. As per the study, such practices help boost employee performance by as much as 13 per cent and also reduce breaks and sick leave.
In the Indian context, working remotely from home has been gaining popularity. Ensuring work-life-balance and so retaining high quality talent has been one of the top reasons for companies to provide employees with such an option. However, since Yahoo!’s announcement, companies in India are also now voicing their concerns over work-from-home policies. The counter argument to giving employees the flexibility of working remotely is that it may dent productivity and lead to a ‘Silo’ environment.
The issue of work-from-home continues to draw attention from all quarters and we thought of capturing industry reactions to a trend that we may agree or differ with, but cannot ignore.
Work-from-home… it works
Helps to hire and retain talent, especially women employees
This is the most powerful argument in favour of work-from-home. It enables companies to hire and hold on to talent, without being limited by the location and the physical presence of an employee. When a valued employee plans to shift base to another city/country, it ensures business continuity and allows the management of talent beyond boundaries. “The option gives me the choice to hire employees across the country, so I do not compromise and select mediocre talent. It also helps me in retaining star women performers who might be considering taking breaks due to family committments,” says the HR Head of a leading consulting firm.
Creates efficient workforce
Contrary to the belief that a flexible workforce creates performance issues , many HR managers believe that working-from-home, in fact, improves employee performance. They attribute the success to work-life balance, flexibility in choosing working hours, reduced leave, greater job satisfaction, decreased commute time and a stress-free work environment.
“Being an IT firm, our employees often work long hours as per the demands of the project. This leads to higher employee stress and impacts productivity as well. Thus, except for mandatory presence during brainstorming sessions and project feedback, we encourage our employees to work-from-home. This not only provides them with a balanced personal and professional life, but also save time and money on commuting,” says an HR Manager with a leading IT firm.
Reduces overhead costs
A larger workforce translates into higher overhead costs for companies including office rent, Internet connections, telephones, employee benefits such as EPF etc. With the work-from-home option, companies can build their workforce at a lower cost. “Last year, we decided to expand our business and wanted to recruit more employees. However, overhead costs were major roadblocks. That is when the management decided to provide a telecommuting option, which helped us in cutting our real estate cost by more than 30 per cent,” says a Management Strategist with a leading outsourcing firm.
Work-from-home… no, it does not work
Impacts team work and team projects
Working from home may not be a viable option for companies that engage employees to work in team projects, as it reduces collaboration and hampers team effectiveness. “While conducting a survey, my team – located in diverse geographies – could work efficiently on their individual modules through email, cloud-based project trackers and web-conferencing software. The problem started when the entire team had to collaborate to present their views and key takeaways from the survey results. It was a task just to schedule calls keeping in mind their availability,” says a Manager with a research organisation.
Affects professionalism and end user experience
Companies have also expressed concerns regarding employee professionalism while working-from-home. Many stated that employees mostly do not assign a separate space or isolated room in their houses for official work, thereby compromising on quality and productivity. Further long power cuts, coupled with the lack of power backup, impede delivery of projects on time.
“Often, it is difficult for me to track content writers who are working-from-home, despite mandating them to be online on Skype. Besides, I also find them giving excuses for not being able to deliver as per committed timelines due to reasons such as power cuts or other personal issues. As it is difficult to validate their claims, I just have to face unpleasant situations with clients,” says a visibility frustrated Chief Editor with a media house.
Impedes employee growth and training
Although, tools and facilities like Google Hangout, Skype and Video conferencing have given us options to train people over the Internet, ensuring virtual connectivity can be a challenge. “While we have been using various communication tools for shorter conversations or one-to-one meetings, it becomes a task to organise training over Internet. We have tried this a couple of times, but each time, due to technical issues, the training had to be called off and physical training sessions were arranged, which proved to be far more beneficial,” says a Senior Manager, Training.
Our take: Work-from home can be a win-win situation for the employer and the employee in some cases. Companies need to closely evaluate their options before they decide to go or not go ‘the Yahoo! way’!