Last month’s hottest workplace news story was Marissa Mayer’s, CEO of Yahoo, decision to ban telecommuting at the Silicon Valley company. Arguments for and against the decision have been debated in news platforms and workplaces across North America.
The major question is will it really fuel the level of creativity, engagement and productivity needed to bring Yahoo back to its former glory days, or will it further demoralize a workforce that has survived 5 CEOs in 4 years? Regardless of its effectiveness in achieving Ms. Mayer’s mandate, it is certainly a move that goes against a trend that increasing numbers of employers across North America are following. Ms. Mayer has to cut costs at Yahoo and staff will certainly be cut.
Perhaps this is her first step in determining which employees should stay and who should go. However, with a dwindling North American workforce, she runs the risk of losing talented core employees who have no choice but to quit because of the impact on their personal lives once they can no longer work from home, especially those employees with young families.
The side issue this story raises is the impact that corporate decisions like this have on birth rates in North America. It is no secret that being able to work from home greatly eases the stress placed on working parents. Perceived costs of raising a child in daycare and after-care can be a deterrent to some couples considering whether or not to start a family. The United States, which has always enjoyed a healthy birth rate, has been dropping dangerously close to a rate that will not sustain the economy. Some believe that this decline is due to the perceived difficulty in raising a child in a world designed for a double-income family.
Of course, Yahoo did not hire Marissa Mayer to boost the birth rate among Silicon Valley tech workers, but to raise the lagging profile of its products. However, if more CEOs decide to follow Ms. Mayer’s lead, the challenge to keep workers in the workforce may be even harder, as many more will have to make the difficult decision to quit their jobs in order to stay at home once they have a family.
The insurance industry has always been viewed as more traditional in nature, and may be inclined to keep employees in the office. However, many claims departments have always had adjusters who are on the road, or working from home, to some degree of success. Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology allows employees to login their employer’s network with a secure connection to work remotely. Logins and time spent in the network are measurable. These previous experiences tied together with new technology make a 100% remote workforce more possible for the insurance industry. Tie this together with an aging workforce, both across the board and within the insurance industry, and you get a potential staff retention tool that will keep valuable young insurance professionals in the workforce when they decide to have a family.
Of course the impact of remote workers on company productivity and creativity is always debated, with those thinking that employees at home will naturally slack, or that creativity is lost when employees are not chatting over lunch in the newsroom. Perhaps in some instances that is true. However, talk to anyone with a slacker team member and they will tell you that even in the office, there are ways to spend the workday without actually doing any work.