Balancing Productivity and Happiness

Micah Wedemeyer writes on that lost in the debate regarding telecommuting and productivity is personal happiness.

Even if it were true that telecommuters are less productive than office workers (a point he does not concede), so what?

If maximizing productivity for the company is all that matters, then you should never drink alcohol, always get a good night’s sleep but not too much, take an even measure of Adderall and caffeine every day, never have children, and take all sick relatives off life support. Ridiculous, right? That’s because workplace productivity is not the be-all-end-all of our lives. And for me, working from home provides the right balance of productivity and happiness.

It’s that balance that companies should focus on, not whether an employee works in the office or telecommutes. Lean too far to the “happiness” side and business urgency may be lost; lean too far to the “productivity” side and employees will burn out and quit the first chance they get.

Companies that get the balance right will have engaged, motivated employees regardless of where they work.

Telecommuter Blues

Last week Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer launched a brouhaha regarding telecommuting by mostly banning the practice at Yahoo (turns out that genuine abuse may have prompted the decision).

Now Best Buy has ended its ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) policy for corporate employees for much the same reasons as Yahoo.

I’ve been a full-time telecommuter for six out of the last ten years, so I thought I’d weigh in:

  1. Successful telecommuting requires managers to communicate clear, measurable goals that telecommuters must attain. If those goals are not being met — as with any office employee — then it’s incumbent upon leadership to follow up with the employee to find out what happened. If telecommuting employees consistently do not meet their goals, then fire them just like any office employee.
  2. Employees can “slack off” in an office just as well as from home. I used to work in an office cubicle next to guys who’d spend hours each day talking about their fantasy football line-ups; the ladies on the other side of me grumbled about the latest singer to get booted off American Idol. Working in an office does not stop “slacking.”

    It goes back to expectations and goals — if telecommuters are meeting and/or exceeding their goals, then why should it matter if they spend a five hours a day on Facebook? And if the goals/expectations are too light, then shouldn’t managers adjust them to fill out the employee’s day?

  3. Yahoo says they need “all hands on deck” for face-to-face collaboration. This is the flimsiest of their excuses, especially from an internet company. There are plenty of thriving companies today with remote employees who collaborate just fine. Again, if collaboration is not taking place among telecommuters, then that is a failure of leadership and imaginative use of existing technology, not telecommuting.
  4. However, telecommuting is not for every one or every job. Some people are more productive in an office setting, while others are more productive when they work quietly by themselves. Some jobs require office “face time,” while others can be done at home. It should be up to managers and employees to decide which situation fits the job and the person.

Telecommuting is a valid work option for managers and employees who agree to clear expectations and goals. Banning it for everyone is lazy policy and makes a company look desperate.