To the Point

Telecommuting, Talent, and Transitions

With the economy on the rebound, retaining top employees should be a priority.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer set off a firestorm a few months ago when she issued a policy memo ending telecommuting at the struggling company — and the ire didn’t just come from the Yahoo employees who would be forced out of their home offices and into their cars and cubicles. Many complained that Mayer’s rule represented a backward move for employees in general.

But I don’t think Mayer was making a statement about remote-staff productivity beyond her own company. After three years of declining revenue at Yahoo — in the cutthroat, fast-paced Internet world — Mayer was hired to turn things around. And her decision to eliminate virtual offices actually is a strong testament to the power of face-to-face interaction. Mayer knows the company needs to tackle some serious challenges, so she’s bringing the team back together to the same offices, cubicles, conference rooms, and hallways so they can collaborate the best possible way — in person. Face-to-face meetings are known to produce better results when it comes to problem-solving and visioning, and that’s just what Mayer is looking for at Yahoo headquarters.

Does this mean the next workplace trend will be a ban on telecommuting? I don’t think so. There are many instances when telecommuting makes good sense. Remote employees are often more productive and loyal to their organization for helping them with work/life balance. Their success depends on many things, including the nature of the work performed and their employers’ management style and culture.

I believe a bigger workplace challenge than managing remote staff is retaining young talent. A recent study cited in the Harvard Business Review found that young high achievers stayed at their jobs, on average, only 28 months before moving on to another employer. Young people say they want more support, training, and responsibility in their jobs than they often receive.

As the economy improves, it will become even more important to hold on to talented employees of all age groups. Those who might have been hesitant to leave their jobs during the recent recession likely will be tempted as more employment opportunities become available.

How to keep that talent and improve organization performance? Some popular approaches right now include creating CSR programs to connect employees, communities, and brands; developing mentoring programs to connect employees at all levels in mutually beneficial ways; and improving physical work environments to make employees comfortable and able to perform at their best.

What are your biggest workforce challenges, and how does your organization help employees be more productive and engaged?

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.