Should SMB companies require localized staff?

During my morning news scan, I came across an article, "Yahoo Ban on Employees Working From Home a Risky Move: Analysts," authored by a long-time friend, Todd Weiss and thought it was a good analysis of Marissa Mayer's, Yahoo CEO, recent move to make all Yahoo staff work from one of Yahoo's offices. Her memo told Yahoo staff that working from home will no longer be allowed after June. If small to medium businesses followed her lead what would happen.

Does proximity really make teams work?

From one perspective, Yahoo's rather extreme, counter tech culture, move might be a seen as a tool for force staff to work together, I think that law of unintended consequences will come into play and high-performing staff will move elsewhere rather than moving to San Francisco to work in a Yahoo corporate office.

Many times, the best candidate for a position lives in a remote location. Is it really necessary to force these people to move in order for them to contribute materially to the company and its success? I believe we've reached a time in which the best answer is that many functions can be filled very well by remote members of the staff.

Some history

I've been a telecommuter for nearly two decades. While at IDC and the 451 Group, many of my coworkers worked remotely and visited the office only when needed. We often won awards for productivity and, although remote employees, we were nearly always available to support sales, customers and other staff members. Some of my colleagues chose to relocate to places that were close to family or to places they loved. They still were able to contribute to the company's success even though they lived in a remote location.

Most staff members have to produce measurable results on time and on budget. While highly productive staff members might be able to mow the lawn or get a tan on company time, it is also likely that they started earlier and left later than their in-office counterparts.

In the end, what matters to the organization? If it is results, then remote work has its place.  If it is seeing shiny faces in the office, then forcing everyone to come in to the office every day makes sense.  I suspect, however, most companies would prefer results rather than attendance.

The physical distance between members of my staff seldom got in the way of collaboration because tools where put in place.  Staff meetings were conducted regularly using audio and video conferencing. Collaborative applications allowed staff to share documents, spreadsheets and presentation decks. Physical meetings where scheduled when we were all attending the same event or conference. If anything, staff appeared to work more hours and were more productive because they were able to focus on accomplishing their goals rather than spending hours fighting traffic and finding parking spaces.

What's the key to making remote staff workable?

The key is that management must measure results rather than a staff member's location or clothing. Teams can collaborate across the distance using audio or video conferencing, remote collaboration tools if the proper management environment is in place. Management needs to be able to clearly articulate what staff need to accomplish and the time and budget they have to achieve their tasks.  Management needs to know that staff members will be responsive and available.  Today's technology supports this.

This is where suppliers, such as IBM, HP and others come in. They are highly distributed companies. They have functions spread all over the globe.  Engineering, sales, marketing and support staff are distributed as well. They have the tools and the knowhow to make this work.  Small companies can certainly rely on these partners for help defining and executing a reasonable remote worker progrm.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.


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