Can other companies go the Yahoo way?

After Yahoo banned its employees from working out of their homes, there has been much debate about flexi-hours and telecommuting. But in a country like India, this practice does improve productivity.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor on

As I write this blog, my three-year-old in the adjoining room is busy playing with dinosaurs. He has my domestic help for company and they are cooking up a story with dinky cars and dinosaur models. In the meantime, I can go check my refrigerator and figure out what the family can have for dinner.

This blog has been cooking in my mind for the last few days. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's diktat earlier this week came as a huge shock to many of us. By now, some have called it her big mistake, while some companies in India reportedly have said they may follow suit. It's led to debates about whether telecommuting is detrimental to innovation, speed, and quality.

"Flexi-time is a utopian concept that is not going to help anyone," K Ramkumar, executive director at ICICI Bank, said in a recent news report published in The Economic Times.

I, for one, have been a big advocate of the work-from-home culture. This is the only way I could have struck any kind of balance in my work and personal life. Some may think I am a control freak, but in a country like India where domestic help is untrained, uneducated and unreliable, and good daycare centers are tough to find, there aren't too many options before people like me.

But not every profession is like print journalism, where story ideas can come from newspapers, magazines, and from talking to old contacts and friends. In several industries such as airlines, manufacturing or teaching, working out of home is not an option. But in whichever field it is viable, companies are offering telecommuting to their employees by terming it an industry best practice.

Many of my friends who do work out of home once or twice a week find a lot of merit in it. They get to avoid the traffic and focus a little on their home and children, while also finding the time for an evening walk or some yoga. But working from home comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some challenges I face all the time:

  1. No one really understands that you are "working" while at home. Family members, even domestic help in India have very little understanding that working from home is equivalent to working from the office.
  2. Even if you have an office in your home, it's not easy to stay there all day and work. Sometime, you want to enjoy your cushy sofa while writing your story. This is when you are likely to get disturbed by the doorbell or the sounds of the TV set.
  3. Power cuts are rampant in India. In peak summers, there are always odd days when the power backup system decides to pack up.
  4. There are days when your Internet connection won't work or your laptop would start giving trouble. And there is a deadline you just have to meet.
  5. You could end up feeling lonely. Although most mothers like me who work from home find office gossip sessions a sheer waste of time, there are days when you feel like discussing a work-related issue with a colleague.

But it's not as if only people with children deserve flexi-hours. The traffic situation and the distances in most cities of India can exhaust you in no time. In cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai, people often take three hours to get home from work. So I guess everyone--from senior executives to trainees--would like a day when they can avoid the traffic and pollution.

Moreover, talent is hard to find. For companies, telecommuting is a carrot and an important means of retaining employees. If one company does it, others have to follow. It's an industry need and I am hoping even a recession (in the future) won't change that. It's a win-win, after all.

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