In-Office Workers Are Less Productive Than Telecommuters

May 23, 2013
5 Min Read

Ever since Marissa Mayer made her announcement that there would be no more telecommuting at Yahoo!, some people have said that Yahoo! will be loads more productive because employees will no longer be able to skirt their responsibilities and waste time at home.

Now let’s have a look at what actually happens during a typical day at the office.  You arrive in the morning, spend a half hour getting your coffee and chit chatting with colleagues, an hour checking your e-mail and social media accounts, and an hour in an unnecessary meeting.  Then, bam, it’s lunchtime!  An hour of errands is followed by another hour of busywork and another hour of actual work.  Then more chit chatting, more coffee, and more online checking.  And at 5 or 6PM, you're following everyone else into the elevator.

The Office’s Dirty Little Secret

This may be an exaggeration, but if you've seen the show The Office or worked in Corporate America for more than five minutes, you get my meaning.  Being in an office does not equal productivity.  If anything, many people are less productive because they confuse just showing up with getting results.  They figure if they spend eight hours in the building that day, then they've done their jobs.  Whether their time was spent usefully and whether the organization is better off because they were in-office is irrelevant.

The Miracle of Quiet

On the other hand, most telecommuters are masterful at time management.  They are accustomed to simultaneously balancing work responsibilities with everything else going on in their lives, and yet don't have to contend with the endless distractions of an office or expend 2+ stress-filled hours on a commute.  And it’s quiet.  So, when they sit down to work, it’s with a laser focus.  Because they have to set their own deadlines and meet them without a boss’ supervision, their assignments are completed more efficiently.

The Clock is Ticking

I worked in a regular office for 10 years and in a home office for 5.  I can tell you that my regular office work days consisted mostly of going in and seeing where the days took me.  I was often frenetic and scattered.  My home office days, on the other hand, are far more regimented.  I have a schedule of tasks that I must complete every day, and because there is no one to interrupt me and no clock to watch, I am far, far more productive.  And contrary to Mayer’s opinion, when I need to hold a brainstorm or collaborate with others, I still do so.  I am just much more conscious of my time and don't spend a lot of it socializing.

I'm not saying that every telecommuter is naturally self-disciplined enough to make the arrangement work.  And in every system there are people who will take advantage of it and try to get away with doing less.  But simply forcing people to be in an office is not going to weed out these people or result in this huge increase in productivity.  If anything, Yahoo! is likely to see it drop.

What do you think is going to happen at Yahoo!?  Will management be forced to reverse the decision after considering the reality of this new mandate?


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