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Is Yahoo's telework ban shortsighted or savvy? Data says both

There's plenty of research to support telecommuting advocates and naysayers alike

By , Network World
February 28, 2013 10:19 AM ET

Network World - Marissa Mayer's decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo ignited a firestorm of criticism for the CEO, who has been accused of sending the company back to the digital dark ages by eliminating flexible work arrangements. Employee morale will plummet, Yahoo will lose key people, and Mayer's efforts to enhance collaboration will backfire, critics predict.

There's plenty of research that seems to back up these dire predictions. Employees consistently rank telework among the most valued perks, and pro-telework organizations are overflowing with data that makes the business case for workplace flexibility. Workers are happier, productivity rises, and people achieve a better work/life balance when they have the option to telework, advocates say.

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But not all research comes to the same favorable conclusions about telecommuting. Other data finds employees view work more positively when their bosses are physically present, people tend to lie more when they're communicating virtually as opposed to face-to-face, and teleworkers are hard to hold accountable for their performance.

Some workplace metrics are impossible to measure, and some measurable metrics are subject to bias. What's certain is the success of telecommuting depends on the individual employee, company, and job that needs to get done. With that in mind, here are a slew of figures, stats and research findings related to telework adoption, employee preferences, and workplace habits.

Tons of money on the table

The Telework Research Network says that if employees with telework-compatible jobs who want to work from home did so half the time, companies could save more than $500 billion a year in real estate, electricity, absenteeism, turnover and productivity costs. Individually, that's a savings of more than $11,000 per employee per year. Another benefit? An increase in national productivity by 5 million man-years or $270 billion worth of work, Telework Research Network calculates.

More free time, cash for teleworkers

In the same scenario -- employees with telework-compatible jobs working from home half the time -- employees would gain the equivalent of two to three weeks of free time per year by not commuting to work, and they'd save between $2,000 and $7,000 in transportation and work-related costs, Telework Research Network estimates.

Best places to work are telework-friendly

Among the top 100 companies on Forbes' 2013 list of the best companies to work for, 84 offer telecommuting benefits.

Wannabe teleworkers would pay for the perk

IT pros really want to telecommute -- so much so that 35% of those surveyed in 2011 by Dice.com said they would sacrifice up to 10% of their salaries for full-time telecommuting. In a more recent ProTech survey of 1,000 IT pros, 28% of respondents listed flex time and the ability to telecommute as the best perk.

Telecommuting benefits productivity

"Companies that have embraced telecommuting have found that their remote workers are just as, if not more productive than traditional office workers," Challenger, Gray & Christmas stated earlier this month. "Analyses of Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical and many other employers have found that teleworkers are 35 percent to 45 percent more productive. American Express found that its teleworkers produced 43 percent more than their office-based counterparts."

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