The truth about working at home

The silly media debates over whether telecommuting is bad or good miss the point. It's all about the quality of management

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Inside or outside the office, few people can produce knowledge work heads-down for hours and hours with just a lunch break day after day. Spreading work out without a hard line between "on" and "off" hours can yield greater productivity and higher quality of work.

Case in point: A couple of years ago I interviewed the CEO of a small company who described his reaction when he saw the internal user activity reports from a new application monitoring system. "At first, it was really depressing," he said. "They're spending that much time on Facebook during the day? Then I saw the log times showing people working in the wee hours and on weekends. Altogether, they were working much longer than regular working hours."

It's all about results
But don't some people just screw off when they work at home? Sure they do. Some people screw off at the office, too, although they have to work a little harder to keep up appearances.

Inside or outside of the office, it's all about instituting objectives and measures while cultivating an atmosphere of trust and respect. The bottom line is that you need clear goals and effective appraisal of performance regardless of where an employee works. Treating people right makes them self-motivated -- an invaluable trait.

It seems pretty obvious that people management has been a problem at Yahoo. In a company with low morale that has spent years drifting, when people work at home a certain number of them -- particularly those lacking clear direction -- may just cynically collect a paycheck.

In such a situation, some serious face time may be required. It's not just about meetings being better when everyone is actually in the room rather than dialing in; that depends on the type of meeting and on how that meeting is handled. But one thing is certain: "Come-to-Jesus" meetings must be conducted face to face.

From the outside, it seems obvious Yahoo as a company is in the midst of a full-on come-to-Jesus episode, so what Mayer is doing may well be justified. I hope that if and when Yahoo revitalizes itself, Mayer will be in a position to reinstate a work-at-home policy -- one of the few bright spots in the modern world of work.

This article, "The truth about working at home," originally appeared at Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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