Last month, Laura Williams wrote a column with 4 tips for a better telecommuting policy. Around the same time, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was banning telecommuting company wide. There has been plenty written about why Mayer is wrong, and plenty more speculation about what her real motivation might be for instituting this policy.
The question that remains unanswered is: can employees be as productive, and as cohesive as a team, if they’re working remotely?
In a recent story for Forbes, Meghan M. Biro says that instead of hiring full-timers, companies are turning to the cloud to find top talent when they need it, for as long as they need it. “What we’re really talking about is on-demand talent in the cloud,” says Biro. “The ability for anyone or any company to recruit individual talent and groups of talent for anything, at any time, for any kind of work and frequency, in any interaction and/or for any ideation.”
That formula is going to make it hard for any company invested in the “team building” approach. Cloud recruiting means no face-to-face interaction (no, Skype doesn’t count). While face time is increasingly a thing of the past (Read: How to Engage Customers Without Face Time) when you’re building a staff, can you get the best results if your individual employees never meet?
Of course, there are two issues here.
One is whether colleagues and clients need to fly around the globe for meetings and conferences. Companies like Cisco are banking on the answer to that question increasingly being “no.” They’re pushing cloud collaboration and the virtual in-person experience, hoping companies looking to cut costs will book a virtual boardroom with a wraparound screen that makes it feel like your contacts are across the table from you.
The other is whether or not it’s acceptable for employees to work remotely simply because it’s more convenient for them. If the answer is no, then how do you reconcile that with the demand for flexible work hours and locations? Employers are aware that the ability to work from anywhere is a big plus for the majority of new workers. (Read: Gen Y Workers Are Slackers).
If it’s a choice between optimal team building and losing a hard-won superstar worker, it may be a no brainer.