What CEOs Don’t Understand About Telecommuting

Posted on March 27, 2013.

First it was Yahoo, now Zappo’s CEO, Tony Hsieh has stated "we don't really telecommute" and is investing  $350 million on a new Las Vegas Office building to prove it.  These CEOs and executive’s use phrases like ” building relationships”, “improving communications and collaboration”. But does this really happen when you force people back in the office?

It’s bad enough that employees lose their flexibility, but as in Zappo’s case, they’re reducing the size of the cubicle from 120 square feet to around 75-80 square feet. Do these executives really think they’re going to improve bonding and communication? Here’s what’s wrong with their theory:

Job Satisfaction and engagement improves with telecommuting. When asked, 36% of workers would choose telecommuting over a pay raise. So now by eliminating this option, you have over a third of your workforce unhappy and disengaged. In this same study, they show over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity with telecommuting.

Retention increases when telecommuting is offered . Turnover is costly. The cost to hire and train a new employee can be up to 1/2 a year's salary, not counting a signing bonus. Not to mention the true cost of losing top talent, not just an average worker. Of course, companies always make exceptions to the work from home policy, so if I’m not the one being allowed to stay home, I’m most likely already looking elsewhere.

People don’t like their personal space invaded. I don’t know anyone who embraces moving from an office to a cubicle. Even if you’ve never had an office, no one looks forward to the lack of privacy inherent in this kind of space.  I’m not suggesting you eliminate them altogether. Cubicles are more flexible and save money. Plus some jobs like trading desks thrive on open environments. But making someone who’s use to working from home now drive to an office where they’re forced into a confined space is not going to lead to improved engagement.

People talk to people they want to talk to. Think about how many emails you get from people that sit right next to you or right down the hall from you.  You think that’s going to change when the millennials enter the workforce en masse? This is the generation that sends texts one another when they’re sitting at the same kitchen table. Forcing them into the office will not improve in person communication. Creating team goals and projects that demand collaboration will improve communication, not placing people in the same space.

There is so much technology out there now between Skype, Google +s Hang Outs, and white boards it seems to me that employers can find more efficient, cost effective ways to create collaboration.  I’m not suggesting that you don’t create some “in office” experiences and team building exercises, but eliminating all flexibility just makes zero sense. And don’t even get me started on what this trend is going to do to traffic.