United States: Why Businesses Should Take A Hard Look At Telecommuting There Are No Glaring Legal Risks In Allowing Workers To Telecommute

Much ink has been spilled about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to bring her workforce back to within the walls of the company's brick-and-mortar offices. It's a controversial decision and no doubt there are many jumping to praise Mayer for her willingness to shake things up. I'm not one of them.

The main reason: flexibility. A worker with a flexible working arrangement is a happy worker. A happy worker is a productive worker. And a productive worker is good for the bottom line, regardless of whether they are humming away in a cubicle or cranking out emails from their kitchen table.

"But having creative employees collaborate in the same room spurns forward thinking and big ideas."

Not necessarily. Creativity and loyalty toward the employer are derived in large part from a worker's satisfaction with their job, and creative people can and will do creative things no matter where they are.

If that creative space is in an office building, so be it, but why prevent them from letting those creative juices flow from other locales? If a worker needs to collaborate with a colleague, he or she can come into the office that day, or pick up the phone. Or better yet, give Skype a try; it's very easy to use.

In 2013, I struggle to comprehend any business' ambivalence about telecommuting. That is, setting aside the costs of telecommuting technology and recognizing that telecommuting is not for all industry sectors and jobs, why not embrace the notion that we are a mobile society and most basic job functions can be performed from anywhere as long as the worker has an Internet connection and working telephone?

"But employees who work from home are not as productive."

Show me the proof. I would submit, and studies have shown, that productivity actually increases when telecommuting. Take out the time and anxiety of a driving commute, and you're already one step ahead of your office mates. Add in the quiet comforts of a home office (no constant ringing of phones or distracting office stop and chats) and you're well on your way to a productive week. Bothered by a troubling email or voice message or experiencing writer's block? Instead of stewing about it at your desk for 20 minutes, go take Fido for a walk to ease your mind or blow off some steam at your local gym to regroup. I could go on, but you get the point.

From a legal standpoint

After Yahoo's decision went public, much of the outrage came from working moms, frustrated that the move set them back and presented a bad example for other companies. Yet telecommuting has benefits for every worker, not just mothers who want to have a career.

Employers that promote agile and mobile workforces are more attractive to a younger generation of workers who are used to the trappings of modern technology. And that's not even accounting for the environmental benefits of telecommuting, like reducing carbon emissions and allowing people to spread out from dense urban environments, or the reductions in an employer's overhead expenses, like costs related to operating large office spaces.

From a legal standpoint, much of the same concerns of a brick-and-mortar office carry over to the remote workforce. There are no glaring legal risks in allowing workers to telecommute. But if a business has a telecommuting policy in place, extra care should be taken that the policy is being enforced consistently, and that certain employees are not facing adverse consequences for working from home.

This is not meant to convince you that telecommuting is for everyone. I'm not even saying that workers should telecommute five days a week. The point is that an outright ban on telecommuting is an extreme and unnecessary measure. If telecommuting is the wave of the future (and there's little doubt that it is), then why not embrace it? If it works for the likes of Cisco, Unilever, Oracle, Best Buy, and IBM, companies that manage enormous multi-national workforces, it can work for most businesses.

Time will tell whether Mayer's decision will give her company the needed boost to catch up to her competitors in big tech or cause her top talent to flee and send the company scrambling again. In any event, New Hampshire businesses considering a shift to telecommuting should be commended. Those looking to follow in Yahoo's footsteps to ban the practice should think twice, or else risk alienating themselves from a growing contingent of young workers who view a flexible working environment as a prerequisite for any new job.

This article reflects one person's opinion. Nothing above should be construed as the platform of my employer or anyone else.

Published in the New Hampshire Business Review

Nicholas Casolaro, an associate in the Litigation Department of the McLane Law Firm, can be reached at ornicholas.casolaro@mclane.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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