Telecommuting in the News.

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Did you read about how the CEO of Yahoo won’t let anyone telecommute anymore? It’s everywhere. And now everyone has an opinion or a survey to share about the impact of telecommuting on productivity, families, the environment, creativity, and everything else I can think of. Seems like in nearly every case, there’s someone making each side of the argument.

I’ll throw my two cents out there: both sides are almost always right.

Of course there are things that I can do better at home without ten people asking me questions about some other project or what I watched on tv last night. But there are also things that I can do better in the company of the very smart people that I work with. It’s true that my carbon footprint in Vermont is lower than it would be if I drove to Burlington every day, but I also fly to Pittsburgh every month or two. And (as John and I have discussed), I’m home more overall than I would be if I worked locally, but I have to go out of town every month or two. Every job comes with trade offs.

Telecommuting is about business but it’s also very personal. Every person and company is going to feel the impact of telecommuting differently. Some people will handle it brilliantly and others will goof off. That’s no different than what you get in an office, really. People are people. You have to find the right ones for the right jobs, whether they’re in an office or not.

What I found surprising about the Yahoo edict is that it doesn’t account for individuals. For a company that employs thousands of people, you’d think there would be a little more room for nuance. Or maybe it’s because of the size that there isn’t room. I don’t know. Good thing I’ll never be the CEO of anything.

Speaking of pros and cons, I bet Yahoo will feel both when it comes to this decision. With a large number of people working without direct, daily supervision, it’s a good bet that some of them were taking advantage. So bringing everyone into the office will surely force some people into more productivity. A win for Yahoo. On the other hand, there may be people who won’t give up their flexibility and choose to look for positions elsewhere And if they’re talented, driven people, they’ll find them. Seeing talented, driven people leave is a loss for Yahoo.

What I’d hate to see is this dialogue somehow turning into a loss for the rest of us – with a greater number of employers choosing to limit more creative solutions. Telecommuting has become far more common since I started doing it ten years ago, and I think that’s a good thing. We’re all human – there’s no single answer that works for everyone. But it makes sense to me that in the constant search for professional fulfillment and personal balance, we all have as many options as possible.

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