Workzone: Office interplay, home output butt heads

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When the CEO of struggling Internet pioneer Yahoo abruptly told employees last month they could no longer work remotely from home, it sparked an uproar among work-at-home supporters and reignited a heated debate about the pros and cons of ditching the coat and tie for jammies and the kitchen table.

Why would a company risk losing valued employees accustomed to working from home by forcing them to show up at the office every day?

For Yahoo, which is trying to refocus and regain its footing as an Internet leader, "The rationale was that there's more creativity in a face-to-face environment," said David Fagiano, chief operating officer at the leadership consulting firm Dale Carnegie Training.

"I happen to agree with that," he said.

Besides the creative value, personal interaction helps build a stronger relationship between employees and their supervisors, which is key to creating an engaged workforce, Mr. Fagiano said.

Years ago, managers were taught not to ask employees about their personal lives. But research showed that approach was wrong, he said.

"People want to feel like human beings, and to do that, you must take a personal interest in them. That's easier to do in the office."

But allowing employees to work from home has its advantages, too.

"Companies can get greater productivity from someone working from home," Mr. Fagiano said.

Employees freed up from the time and expense of commuting for work and running out for lunch enjoy a better work-life balance and tend to get more done, he said.

For companies such as Yahoo that want to pull back on working from home, the move can be more successful if employees are involved in the decision process, Mr. Fagiano said.

"People need to understand the reason for it. Say what you're planning to do and ask, 'What do you think?' "

Companies also should recognize the financial burden of suddenly requiring employees to commute to work. "It's like taking a pay cut," he said. "Employees have to say, 'Great, but you are cutting my pay. Can we work out some arrangement?' "

The best arrangement could be a compromise.

Many companies offer a work-at-home option a couple of days a week instead of every day. Some offer it only occasionally.

"Allowing that degree of flexibility is a nice compromise," Mr. Fagiano said.


Patricia Sabatini: or 412-263-3066.


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