97% of Employers Have No Plans to Eliminate Telecommuting a la Yahoo! and Best Buy

Posted March 11, 2013 by
Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!

Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!

When big box retailer Best Buy followed in the footsteps of Yahoo! Inc. by altering its telecommuting policies for employees, some undoubtedly concluded that there would soon be a flood of companies doing the same.  However, a new survey indicates that Best Buy may be in the minority, with the overwhelming percentage of companies planning to maintain their telecommuting policies.

According to the survey, 80 percent of the 120 human resources executives polled said their companies currently offer some form of telecommuting option to employees with 97 percent of them saying there are no plans to eliminate that benefit. 

The survey was conducted by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. in the days following Yahoo’s widely reported and controversial plan to bring work-at-home employees back to the office.

“When major companies like Yahoo and Best Buy make notable policy changes, there is no doubt that other employers will take notice and some may even re-evaluate their policies.  However, it would be misguided to assume that other companies will follow blindly without considering their own unique circumstances,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“If a company is having success with its telecommuting program, it is unlikely to will pull the plug on it simply because Yahoo did.  It is just as unlikely that a company will not implement telecommuting because Yahoo did not have success with it.  No two companies are the same, so each must evaluate policies such as telecommuting based on how it will affect its customers, employees and bottom line,” he added.

The latest available statistics from the Telework Research Network indicate that 3.1 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers, considered home to be their primary place of work in 2011.  While that is up 73 percent since 2005, it still represents just 2.5 percent of U.S. nonfarm payrolls.  It is estimated that as many as 64 million U.S. employees (just under 50 percent of the workforce) hold a job that is compatible with telework.

“However, just because a job is compatible with telework, does not mean the person holding that job is. Not every worker has the discipline and self-motivation to work from home on a regular basis, which makes it nearly impossible to have a blanket policy.  Every manager must determine whether telecommuting will be permitted on a case-by-case basis.  And, if allowed, it must be continually monitored to ensure that the quantity and quality of the employee’s output does not drop off,” said Challenger.

Most companies surveyed by Challenger did not have a blanket telecommuting policy.  Less than 10 percent of employers offered telecommuting to all workers.  About 40 percent offer telecommuting opportunities to some employees.  Another 30 percent do not have a formal telecommuting program but permit some employees to work from home some days.

The need to examine telecommuting on a case-by-case basis was, in fact, the primary change in Best Buy’s policy shift.  According to reports, Best Buy’s telecommuting policy, which had been in place since 2005, allowed any of its 4,000 non-store employees to work from home whenever they wanted without approval from a supervisor.  The new policy now requires workers to get their supervisor’s okay.

“Best Buy obviously still recognizes that there is value in allowing telecommuting or it would have simply terminated the program entirely.  However, the company also recognizes the need to maintain tighter control over the telecommuting workforce.  Just because some workers are more productive when they work from home does not mean that every employee is,” said Challenger.

Increased productivity is one of the leading reasons for allowing employees to work from home, according to the Challenger survey.  Respondents also cited the desire to help employees achieve better work-life balance.  Other top reasons for telecommute included increased morale and lowering office costs.

Among the respondents who indicated that they may or already have eliminated telecommuting, the driving factors were decreased collaboration and increased animosity among those who were not permitted to telecommute.

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