Does Telecommuting Reduce Employee Collaboration and Creativity?
Develop | Posted February 27, 2013

I just finished reading an article that described the latest thinking at Yahoo regarding telecommuting: CEO Mayer calls in all Yahoo telecommuters. Marissa Mayer has decided that she wants all employees to work in the office and has squashed the telecommuting policy from Yahoo’s cadre of employee perks.

Aside from my initial reaction that air pollution levels will worsen as a result of this ill-conceived mandate, I must confess that every strategy has its pros and cons. Telecommuting is no exception. 

I’m sharing my view as someone who has worked in environments that demanded my presence in the office and those that offered a telecommute option. I admit that I am biased—my personal experience has reinforced my view that truly progressive companies that embrace creativity and innovation offer the ability to telecommute.

Telecommuting contributes enormously to the work/life balance of employees. In exchange for this generous gift of trust, many of us express our gratitude through a willingness to work evening hours and weekend mornings to complete that extra task. Companies that offer telecommuting policies seem pleased with this arrangement; happy employees are productive employees.  

That still leaves the question of whether or not telecommuting diminishes creativity and innovation.

I’m not going to say it has no impact at all. Impromptu meetings in the hallway and post-meeting meetings certainly spur innovation and creative “Ahas.”

communication toolsI believe, however, that those who telecommute have learned to maximize their use of tools so are able to contribute ideas and participate in the creative process to the same extent as on-premise employees. Teams just need to accommodate the needs and occasional constraints of telecommuting employees.

This isn’t hard.

There are a slew of free and commercial tools available to enhance collaboration and communication among on-premise and remote team members—everything from video-conferencing and online meetings, to document review and application lifecycle management, and everything in between. That’s why these tools exist – to bridge those communication and collaboration gaps. My point is that there are plenty of solutions that allow teams to mimic the intensity of in-person interaction even when team members are “virtual.” Progressive companies encourage employees to rely on these solutions since they often ignite the discussions that drive the innovation that companies prize.

So what do you think about telecommuting? Does Marissa Mayer have it right after all? Or do you believe, as Richard Branson does, that it's about trusting your team to be an efficient, well-tuned machine even if you aren't all located in the same physical location? 

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