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Telecommuting has definite advantages for staff, employers

In the 12 years I have been writing this column, I cannot remember a time when I commented on the decision of an individual business owner. However, I just have to say something about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to eliminate all telecommuting.

Mayer said she saw no benefit in this type of working arrangement and wanted each person to be present in the office every day. She felt the face-to-face interaction would generate greater innovation than if they were working remotely and that productivity and control would be better as well.

Around the time of Mayer’s announcement, a new study came out showing that, on average, employees working remotely put in six more hours than their counterparts at the office.

These two situations seem to be at odds. You might wonder if Mayer would have had a different opinion had she seen the results of this study.

When the head of Yahoo unilaterally eliminates telecommuting, it changes the culture of the organization and sends a burning message that she does not trust the staff to be effective.

Telecommuting does have its limitations and isn’t suitable in all cases. Take, for example, a job where a significant amount of collaboration is required. Clearly, telecommuting would not be the best answer in this situation, but if your employees work independently, there is no reason they cannot work from home.

In limited doses, telecommuting works well and is also a great motivator for many workers. I think good management is the key to getting the most out of this working arrangement. Staff want to add value to the company and fulfill their boss’ expectations.

Bosses who really understand telecommuting can overcome most of the problems. As the saying goes, you do not want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” If some element of the process does not work, change the process until it fits.

As businesses expand, the need to find workers with specific skills will be critical. Asking a family to pick up and move for a job is a tough barrier. Often, an offer is turned down simply because the potential employee could or would not move his or her family. Telecommuting is a solution in some of these cases.

As the economy improves, dictating the terms of the working environment for new employees — especially younger ones — just won’t work. That is, when it becomes a seller’s market for employees, there will be even greater incentive to allow and encourage telecommuting.

Bottom line: telecommuting will become more prevalent going forward, and you need to prepare for it.

You can do this!

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Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an Amazon.com bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.