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Jamie Lawrence


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Facilitating the cultural shift to remote working


This article was written by Jane Kirk, director at search and intelligence consultancy Armstrong Craven.

The news that Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo!’s entire workforce from home-working sparked an immediate surge of protest. The move seemed to fly in the face of growing evidence to support flexible working. Engagement and well-being are cited as key benefits, as is productivity which – in contrast – was given as one of the main reasons for Mayer’s decision; signalling a belief that remote working is a drain rather than a positive influence on business performance.

Studies aside, the debate should not really be about whether remote working is beneficial to a company, individual or performance – but how to implement and drive it through more traditional organisations, and support managers to make it work.

Making it work

  • Trust is key: Home working demands corporate trust; it is fundamental to its successful adoption and integration into corporate culture. By taking away the option at Yahoo!, Mayer is effectively saying that she wants her employees in the office so their output can be monitored. Rather than simply removing the privilege in a bid to simplify operations, companies need to develop line managers with the capabilities to manage the performance of individuals whether they are in the office, at home or split between the two.
  • Clear policies: Implementation starts with a review of HR policies to bring them in line with current thinking. Often designed around office-based employees, they must also apply to those who split their time between office and home. This is particularly important for issues such as career progression, supervision and face time; to avoid any perception of different treatment and ensure complete transparency.
  • Change the culture: There may be some resistance to change within the organisation. Traditional attitudes towards home working generally favour those people who are trusted because their commitment and capabilities are known. To successfully navigate the transition to acceptance of home working, worries over performance and whether individuals have proven themselves ‘worthy’ need to be overcome. Instil new behaviours and ways of working; encourage the understanding among managers that presenteeism doesn’t necessarily deliver better performance – and vice versa. Just as influential is dispelling the perception that home working is just a perk for senior management rather than a value-adding benefit for the company. By offering home working to every employee – and encouraging managers to pro-actively lead by example – an organisation will demonstrate positive outcomes and create a sustainable culture of effective home working.
  • Fairness first: Turn the old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ on its head. Just as office based employers should not be overloaded because they are physically present, home workers should not be overlooked when opportunities or promotions come up. This unbiased approach stems from a strong corporate culture which rewards talent and performance, rather than fixating on the location of employees.
  • One size doesn’t fit all: Home working is not a panacea for everyone. Yes, someone with a long commute may be more productive if able to work from home – and more loyal to a company that places this level of trust in them. But a woman with a child at home is likely to want to come to the office so she can concentrate. Don’t assume it suits everyone.
  • Measure performance: Put effective performance systems in place to manage outputs. Home working will then cease to be an issue; people are either delivering the required output or not. This will also provide robust data to support the business case for remote working – and complement the less tangible benefits of employee engagement, loyalty and wellbeing.

The millennial generation think differently and have very clear expectations of employment in a modern world. Men and women increasingly require more flexibility to achieve the sought-after work-life balance, cope with children or look after aging parents. The Yahoo! edict seems out of step with current social and employment trends. It begs the question – is it incredibly foolhardy or brave of this global brand to make such a move in the face of strong opposition? In a competitive world where finding talented individuals to lead businesses into the future is a major concern, is Yahoo! right to try to radically move the goalposts for existing employees? It may deliver initial business gains and drive shareholder value in the short term, but is unlikely to be sustainable. In terms of talent management strategies, it is a risk – analysis of the fallout will tell us if it was worth taking and provide interesting learnings for the corporate world.

One Response

  1. Good measures, well-understood by all parties, are the key

    Some types of work are more suitable than others for home working.  Some people are more suitable, too.

    A poor combination can lead to all sorts of problems.  Poor understanding of the work, and the working practices of the people doing it can lead to a nightmare for managers without the required skills.

    If a programmer writes 3,000 lines of code in a day, has he done more or less work than another programmer who wrote 300 lines of code in the same day?  What if the 300 lines of code are tighter, leaner and much more efficient than the rambling, badly-constructed 3,000 line program?

    One programmer was logged into the system all day, writing, testing and re-writing.  The other spent the day doing documentation, laying out logic flow charts, test patterns, reading manuals, then finally logged in and wrote the 300 lines of code in an hour.  If you’re a manager who doesn’t know what to look for, it would be all too easy to assume that the worker who was logged in all day was working hard, and the other was goofing off.

    It’s essential to have proper measures in place, and those measures will be as varied as the types of work being done.  With good measures in place, and expectations clearly set for both employee and employer, managers aren’t constrained by having to rely on trust.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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