Why Yahoo Is All Wrong About Remote Work

There’s a reason why members of my team rarely have an out-of-office message on their email.

That reason is that most of Chamberlain’s senior leaders work remotely full-time. While they travel often, they’re able to easily take their offices with them. They are highly productive and nearly always accessible.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced that remote-work employees would need to report to a Yahoo office by June, and discouraged even casual work-at-home accommodations.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” a memo sent to Yahoo employees stated. “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

I, too, once had concerns about the ability to achieve work objectives with a remote work force. I had once tried to work at home when my children were small, and quickly learned that it was not a viable option without help. When the possibility of my direct reports working remotely was first posed to me, I worried about distractions in the home, and questioned if we’d be able to keep tabs on people’s activity and results.

Partially out of necessity, Chamberlain began to explore flexible work options. In today’s world, you often need to look outside your geographic area to find the industry’s top talent. This is particularly true in nursing education. In the midst of a nationwide nursing and nursing faculty shortage, offering flexible work options is essential for Chamberlain. To employ the highest caliber of talent, we need to be flexible about where our employees live and work.

What I have found is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to employee work arrangements rarely produces the best results. A flexible workplace helps create a culture where employees are truly engaged and motivated to achieve the best results.

When a remote policy is thoughtfully crafted, rolled out and managed, companies can improve productivity. A recent study out of Stanford University found a 13% increase in performance from employees who worked remotely as compared to their on-site counterparts. Positive results were attributed to a quieter work environment and the remote employees taking fewer breaks and sick days.

These results run counter to Yahoo’s memo, which noted, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” The communication implied that the company lacked trust in its employees, and some employees may have felt they were being punished for the actions of those people who abused the privilege.

As leaders, we have to trust that our employees will get the job done if they have clear objectives, and leave how they schedule their time to them.  A 2011 study by the non-profit association World at Work found that having a flexible work culture has a significantly positive effect on employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction.  People appreciate the flexibility and the ability to create and sustain a work/life balance that makes the most sense for them.

Managing remote workers does take a different management style and set of processes to ensure accountabilities. Personal and professional relationships can be more challenging and take more work to build and sustain. Clear objectives, agreed upon deliverables, and a regular schedule and format for reporting status and outcomes are key ingredients for a successful remote work program.

If a company has a remote work program, it must ensure strong support for remote workers, including the right equipment and technical support, as well as a communication strategy for remote workers so that they feel they’re part of the team and culture.

Our employee engagement score continues to be at or above the world-class level since the launch of our formal flexible work options. Beyond the numbers, I have heard from employees who are thankful to be able to eat lunch with their children, or be free from the long commute to work one day a week. When you lift employees’ spirits, you can expect loyalty and productivity to follow.

While Yahoo may be striving to be “the absolute best place to work” by eliminating flexible work options, Chamberlain is fully embracing a flexible work culture and seeing positive results in spades.

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