02/27/2013 10:16 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2013

Teleworking a Deal Breaker?

Drop the word "ban" and 10 years ago the headlines probably would have read "Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer causes uproar with telecommuting." So is it simply a matter of time, or maybe a matter of timing? I have to admit, when I read over the weekend that Yahoo was eliminating their telework policy and telling employees that they needed to come back to the office, I felt a certain amount of indignation. After all, I've been promoting the benefits of teleworking to both businesses and employees for years. And quite frankly, I would be very saddened if my own telework options were taken away. Then I took a breath and said, okay, let's look at this a little more objectively.

In the WorldatWork Total Rewards Model. which comprises the five components of rewards that are available to the employer to attract, motivate and retain employees, flexibility programs are not done in a vacuum -- or at least shouldn't be. Without careful strategic thought put into the why and the what will be offered to employees in terms of rewards (compensation, benefits, work-life, recognition and development opportunities), then there is no connection to supporting the business strategy. We teach in our first basic course that unless the mix of total rewards supports and enhances the business strategy, then we're offering rewards that have no direct purpose or line of sight. That isn't to say that we offer programs that ONLY support the business and take no consideration of the employee value proposition, but those somehow need to be balanced and sometimes difficult unpopular decisions must be made. We only have to look into the not too distant past to say the same thing about employee benefit plans. When I first began my career, I paid very little to have medical coverage and enjoyed very robust benefit plans. These days we've moved in the direction of more cost sharing between employer and employee in our premiums and co-pays. Or even how merit and incentive increases were so commonplace before 2009 and in the last five years many have struggled to accept that that part of our deal was changed for a time also. These are not popular changes, however it does happen and I would wager that they happen with a lot of forethought. It does change the "deal" that employees have with their employers. Is it a deal breaker? For some, possibly. For others, there may be other rewards that are helping soothe the pain of losing out on what they've gotten used to.

Now after 10+ years, I shouldn't have to speak of the benefits of teleworking -- or even flexibility in general in terms of what it gives to both the employer and the employee. Generally speaking it allows employees the flexibility to achieve both work commitments and personal commitments that might otherwise be compromised. It can lower absenteeism, increase productivity, be a part of a business continuity plan or potentially a huge savings on real estate and facilities. Does it enhance employee engagement and lower turnover? Our own Survey on Workplace Flexibility says yes. The higher an organization rates itself as having a flexible culture, the lower the organization's voluntary turnover rate. It's definitely a popular benefit and as my opening remarks imply -- have come a long way in the last decade.

So back to the question about "time" or "timing." With the need to turn Yahoo into a frontrunner organization competing with the likes of Google (that by the way also feels that creativity and spontaneity are best captured face-to-face), perhaps this is a decision based on how teleworking does or does not enhance the business strategy and in "time," there will be another opportunity to re-visit as a viable flexible work option. And when that time comes, WorldatWork will be there. Yahoo!