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Telecommuters, managers responsible for program success

I’m not backtracking on last week’s post that Yahoo’s new policy about telecommuting is a mistake.

That won’t happen.

A few bad apples ruined it for the whole bushel.

That said, we don’t know how many of the apples were rotten and telecommuting is the way of the future for many professions, decreasing the amount of time and money we spent on getting to the office, increasing our productivity and improving our work-life balance.

But once the news broke that CEO Melissa Mayer was ordering all telework employees back to the office, the reasons why started to leak out.

man resting with laptop

Sleeping on the job? (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

PC Magazine revealed that some Yahoo employees “routinely abused their work-from-home privileges to such an extent that Yahoo was paying them to do virtually nothing.”

Or to launch their own startups, as I read on a few other sites.

Many remote-work employees couldn’t even be bothered to sign in to the company’s VPN (Virtual Private Network).

“They weren’t working unless they had some magical yet-unheard of connection to the company’s network that doesn’t require any kind of external validation,” writes PC Mag.

On behalf of all telecommuters around the world: thanks, Yahoos, for making the rest of us look bad.

While it’s true the Yahoo news is a poor example of a telecommuting program, many other companies run with successful, well-managed remote work forces.

Take health insurer Aetna, for example.

Of its 35,000 employees, the Financial Post reports, 14,500 do not have a desk on Aetna real estate.

“With telecommuting, the company has cut 2.7 million square feet of office space at $29 a square foot, for about $78 million in cost savings a year, including utilities, housekeeping, mail service and document shredding,” the story says.

And according to Shelly Ferensic, the head of claims at Aetna, her team’s teleworkers are 10 to 20 per cent more productive than their in-office counterparts and produce comparable quality.

“They work a 40-hour work week, but it’s flexible as long as they put in the hours and meet their productivity objective,” she says.

They are measured on producing a certain number of average claims per hours. All the remote workers have webcams for monthly one-on-one meetings, and they attend videoconferences to communicate with their managers and teams.

Aye, there’s the rub.

Yahoo’s telecommuting problem wasn’t just one of lazy workers. It was one of lazy management.

While it’s important for the remote worker to himself avoid the traps of telecommuting, it is incumbent upon management and team supervisors to ensure the telework program works, setting work goals and ensuring the lines of communication are left open and used.

The crucial step is defining a company-wide policy that lays out the rules and guidelines for remote workers, including who is eligible to work from home, how they will engage and communicate with management and the rest of the team, and how their work and productivity will be measured.

Without this document, you’ve left yourself open to abuse of your telecommuting program.

Or … you know … working with a bunch of yahoos.

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