Panel Paper: What Does Yahoo!'s Decision to End Telework Mean for Public Sector Organizations?

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 8:20 AM
3017 Monroe (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sarah E. Towne and Matthew F. Vanderschuere, American University
Teleworking is increasing popularity among politicians, managers, and workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of employees did some or all of their work from home in 2010, up from 18.6 percent in 2004 (BLS, 2011).  Telecommuting can cut costs, reduce energy consumption, decrease traffic congestion, and contribute to work-life balance. During the 2010 February blizzards in the Washington, DC area, the government projected a loss of $100 million worth of productivity for each day it remained closed, but that estimate was reduced to $71 million since roughly 30 percent of federal workers in the Washington area teleworked during the storm, according to the Office of Personnel Management (Losey, 2010). The cost savings of telecommuting for both the employer and the worker are known and well-supported. However, does teleworking translate into a better performance by the employee? This paper seeks to help answer this question in the context of the public sector.

While telework is explored in other disciplines including economics, sociology, child and family studies, and business, it is not fully developed in public policy and management. Teleworking provides other advantages beyond cost-savings measures. Theoretically, telework policies and programs are designed to increase commitment to the organization and decrease turnover intentions among employees. Telework is intended to increase satisfaction with work-life balance, which leads to overall job satisfaction. Despite the popularity of teleworking and its advantages, in February of 2013, Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer ended the work-from-home arrangements for all employees, claiming a rampant misuse of the program and cited productivity issues among Yahoo!’s employees (Swisher, 2013). While Yahoo!’s decision may be seen as a private sector debate, it raises a question all employers should ask: Does telework render a better performing, more productive worker? Presently, no research exists in the public policy research on the link between telecommuting and performance for government employees.  

For the past two decades, the Merit Systems Protection Board has conducted periodic Government-wide Merit Principles Surveys of Federal employees to solicit their perceptions of their jobs, work environment, supervisors, and agencies. Using the 2010 U.S. MSPB Merit Principles Survey combined with interviews of parents and caregivers who telework, this mixed method study investigates 1) whether employees who telework report increased motivation, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment, 2) if teleworkers report decreased turnover intention, and 3) if teleworking contributes to an employee’s productivity and performance. The results provide recommendations to practitioners and scholars to move teleworking beyond a “cost-savings” discussion towards a “performance-outcome” discussion. A performance based approach is critical for human resource practices during a period of fiscal austerity and employee furloughs.

Works Cited:

Bureau of Labor Statistics. DOL. 2011. The Editor's Desk, Work at home and in the workplace, 2010.

Losey, Steven. February 21, 2010. Federal Times, “‘Snowmageddon’ drives call for more telework”.  

Swisher, Kara. February 22, 2013. “Physically Together”: Here’s the Internal Yahoo No-Work-From-Home Memo for Remote Workers and Maybe More. All Things D.