When an internal memo from Yahoo! leaked to the public back in February 2013, there was a collective groan not just from people working in the company, but also from supporters of remote work in general. The memo banned remote work for all Yahoo! staff and cited that more effective collaboration would happen face-to-face — that it all begins with being physically present in the office. A Yahoo! spokesperson clarified that banning work from home was not a blanket repudiation of remote work, rather, it was a move that was right for the company's individual situation

They were not the last ones to try to put an end to the practice of remote work. Best Buy followed suit in March 2013 by getting rid of their flexible work program and making employees hold to a more traditional 40-hour work week.

Even more recently, Reddit announced the closing of two branch offices in Utah and New York, giving employees two months to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area; then-CEO Yishan Wong cited that while remote work was good for some workers, in the macro scheme of things, the company just wasn't able to collaborate and coordinate efficiently. 

Why Ban Remote Work?

So what has been prompting this about-face regarding work-at-home policies? Why are top technology companies pulling the plug on one of the hottest perks for today's workers

Some clues can be found in the Yahoo! memo. It claimed: "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home." The implication being that remote work slows down overall productivity and lowers quality of output. The memo also positioned the policy as a way to unify the forces physically, stating that the best ideas usually come from face-to-face interaction around hallways and office water coolers. 

The truth is that there are many challenges with remote work, we can't pretend otherwise. We blogged about the 8 biggest challenges for leading virtual teams and found that according to our survey, the top two challenges were (1) poor communication, and (2) a lack of access to expertise needed to support the work.

Jennifer Owens of Working Mother Media says that the move stems from fear: “Fear that if I can’t see you, I don’t know what you’re working on. It’s a distrust of your own workforce.”

What it boils down to is that these companies decided against remote work because they believe virtual collaboration is inefficient. Instead of overhauling their work-from-home policies and investing in better collaboration technology, they'd rather herd their people back into a single physical location to enhance teamwork

But... People Love Remote Work!

Even though companies like Yahoo!, HP, Best Buy, and Reddit have returned to more traditional work schedules from centralized locations, a thousand more startups and technology companies continue to fly the flag for remote work. Allowing remote work means teams can take advantage of the resources brought by distributed team members who do not want to pack up and move to company headquarters. And people value the perk!

According to our remote collaboration survey of over 1,000 respondents, 25% of workers value remote work so much that they’re willing to accept a reduction in salary in order to enjoy it. Other sacrifices they're ready to make include: free meals, reduction in vacation, and paid cellphone plans.

How to Make Remote Work Work

So what do we say to the companies who have given up on remote work? How can a company successfully implement their work-from-home policy and avoid possible negative repercussions?  

Terri Griffith, Professor of Management at Santa Clara University and author of The Plugged-In Manager, says: “It takes a thoughtful combination of people, technology, and process to gain the value of virtual work.”

We've put together a free ebook on the reasons you should embrace remote work, and the entire second chapter deals with how to successfully implement the policy at your company. We included relevant case studies from companies that have thrived on distributed teamwork, including Johnson & Johnson and Zappos.

If you want to stop the fear and raise your own remote work flag, grab our free Staying Productive Across Distances ebook.

Photo Credit: Asher Isbrucker on Flickr. Some rights reserved. Photo edited.

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