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Telecommunicating Proponents Should Push the Conversation Marissa Mayer Started

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Five Tips for Successful Telecommuting

It was either Joseph Stalin or Rahm Emanuel, or both, who said that it is a shame to let a good crisis go to waste.

Last week’s media attention to the new rules at Yahoo regarding telecommuting of course is not a crisis, except possibly for President and CEO Marissa Mayer. However, the attention Mayer brought to the topic by shutting down the company’s telecommuting program certainly was noteworthy and got people’s attention.

These opportunities are rare. I suggested that the pro-telecommuting community – a mix of environmental advocates, hardware and software vendors, promoters of a positive work/life balance and others – should use the attention to further their cause.

It is imperative that this community follow up while the rhetorical iron is hot. People move on quickly. The first step is doing some research to be effective. The Mother Nature Network offers links to eight relevant articles, while the Australian site Smart Company lays out reasons supporting Mayer’s decision. The latter is particularly important. If proponents want to get the most out of the opportunity Mayer has provided, they must be able to deal with the negatives of telecommuting. She almost certainly overreacted and handled the situation poorly. But to assume that she didn’t raise relevant issues is a mistake.

CIO Insight posted a slideshow describing nine best practices for telecommuting. At least two of the suggestions – that telecommuting be discontinued with one week’s warning and that workers be required to attend meetings in person if requested – suggest a vision of telecommuting in which the worker lives relatively near the office. That would neutralize one of the big advantages of telecommuting: Attracting talented employees regardless of his or her locale.

Many of the questions that should be raised in the media and, when possible, in boardrooms focus on telecommuting policy. Some sample issues:

  • What level of working should be allowed to work from home? Are there employees whose work simply is too sensitive to be let out of the office? Are there others whose work inherently must be done on site?
  • Is telecommuting a recruitment tool and perk for people who live nearby, such as the situation implied by the CIO Insight slideshow? Or is telecommuting a tool for finding talent far away from the corporate locales?
  • What types of security and other equipment management issues need to be tackled? The minutia of telecommuters’ equipment is vital – and is closely tied to the evolution of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches.

In addition to those questions, telecommuting proponents need to take tangible steps toward pushing their agenda. For instance, it is important to recruit champions as high in the C-level suite as possible. Demonstrating the benefits of telecommuting – in worker productivity, skills brought to an organization and savings in real estate and other overhead costs – is vital.

The point is that Marissa Mayer opened the conversation. It is up to telecommuting proponents to keep it going – and in the right direction. The opportunity to educate the public and corporate executives won’t come around again soon.

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