Enter the Net: Telecommuting ban short-sighted at best

By David Hughes

One of the boons which have come from the spreading growth of broadband Internet for the public has been the increase and popularity of telecommuting. This is especially true in areas where hour-long commutes to and from work are considered as “short.”
This is especially true here in the Washington, DC area with its thousands of companies spread out of hundreds of square miles. Because of housing prices the closer you live to the District of Columbia, the higher housing cost escalates.
An example would be my home in suburban Herndon with a population of about 40,000. However, it is located within Fairfax County - largest and one of the most affluent counties in the Commonwealth. My 40-plus year old four-bedroom home is appraised by the county at more than $300,000. The same home in Saline County would not even break the $100K mark.
Yet, if I lived 45 miles way the cost and taxes would be half.
I’ll discuss other reasons telecommuting has made sense across the nation later.
This week, newly-minted Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer threw a monkey wrench into one of the best-loved corporate perks at her company and promptly stoked the fires of one of the greatest debates related to the electronic age.
Her edict suddenly ending telecommuting privileges for Yahoo’s workers this week is throwing the family and professional lives of hundreds of workers into chaos. Talented men and women who accepted positions within the company partially based on that perk now must decide if they want to stay with the already fiscally unsteady company or find more modern thinking elsewhere in Silicon Valley.
Most companies there offer telecommuting at least part of the week because studies have shown that one freedom makes employees more loyal and productivity usually does not suffer.
Mayer has sides with former HP Chief Information Officer Randy Mott when he said in 2006 that he felt discouraging telecommuting help facilitate face-to-face interaction and increase team effectiveness.
In other words, employee value extends beyond mere efficiency, spontaneous ideas created by random meetings in the workplace are important to creativity.
Many of the telecommuting rules were relaxed several years ago when employment was high and companies were trying to attract the best and brightest. Companies such as Google created an atmosphere where employees were encouraged to stay inside with such things as free food, exercise facilities, free day and the like. Depending on your job, it was possible to telecommute several days a week.
I worked for a publications group in Leesburg, VA located the next county over from my home and many times worked from home. The company’s largest success was the monthly magazine “Loudoun Living. Staff members collaborated with each other from five different counties using broadband connections and would only come into Leesburg very seldom for specific meetings. The staff had no office space in the building and saved the company tens of thousands of dollars in real estate costs for those offices.
Employees who telecommute also saved a lot of money in gas and other vehicle costs. Some companies found employees would forgo raises, etc. to keep telecommuting.
I met Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA 10) back in those days and he was, and continues to be a big proponent of mandating telework for federal employees who qualify because of the lower turnover of experienced personnel. He also points to the number of cars telecommuting has the potential to remove from the already stressed DC area highways.
Wolf also says another byproduct of keeping the cars off the road is a decrease in air pollution and lives lost due to accidents.
The Congressman was asked why some federal agencies and companies don’t want embrace telecommuting and he Saud at that time it had a lot to do with supervisors don’t want to give up their power over employees. Wolf said these supervisors felt they had to have actual eyeball contact to make sure the work was getting done and they look good.
Here in Saline County we don’t have the skyscrapers filled with thousands of workers or the same level of traffic on the freeway … nor do we? Think about how many of you and your friends work in and around the Little Rock area. I realize many of you must be in an office or place of business because of the job you do. But, how many of you do things like bookkeeping or other jobs that could be done a few days a week from home?
Thanks to todays phone systems it’s no big deal to have a company extension in your home through the Internet. Using programs such as Skype and others workers can sit down face-to-face with bosses and clients very easily.
How much money would you save in childcare and commuting costs – especially with gas heading toward the $4 per-gallon mark if you could telecommute?
Mayer is trying to bring Yahoo from the muck of an “also ran,” but mark my words, going back to the 50s and 60s management ways is not the way to do it.
She will be long gone by year’s end.