Working from Home Isn’t the Issue

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A woman with nothing but the city behind herA couple of months ago Marissa Mayer asked all Yahoo employees to give up the privilege of working from home and make the trip into the office.  A vigorous debate ensued and individuals on both sides of the argument took nearly religious positions regarding whether she had made a mistake.

Are you kidding?  There is no right or wrong answer here folks, but, there is another debate that we’re ignoring.

For the vast majority of companies, the issue of telecommuting is a tactic or, for some, a strategy. It’s definitely not the ideological question that many of the pontificators have made it out to be.

As such, a discussion of the merits of her decision in a broad sense is simply irrelevant.  The right decision for one company has no bearing on another company. Successful companies can be built both ways. I’d rather just leave it to Marissa and her management team to determine the best for Yahoo!.  They should know best.

But this debate provides insight into a fundamental question that many are tap dancing around.  At its core, every business is made up of a collection of individuals and the business ultimately performs in accordance with their ability to operate as a collective unit.  Forgetting the people and interrelations between them can have devastating effects on a business.

The principle that I believe so many were trying to use this as an excuse to address is that of freedom and responsibility. Unlike telecommuting, the question of freedom and responsibility is an ideological question.

A culture built upon the foundation of empowering employees with the freedom to exercise judgement and to creatively solve problems increases morale.  Likewise, it also delegates to each individual the responsibility for driving results.

As a result, if employees are held accountable for these results, it optimizes performance as individuals take ownership over their role within the organization. It just so happens that individuals perform at a higher level when they are engaged not only at a mechanical level, but also at a mental level.

Perhaps more importantly, a culture of freedom and responsibility upholds the intrinsic dignity of the person.  By allowing employees to use their God-given gifts to exercise judgement and practice creativity, employers reaffirm their employees self-worth as a unique individual.

On the other hand, employers that refuse to delegate autonomy and operate within a tight command and control culture treat employees more as machines, a simple means to an end.

Somehow, society has turned an amoral decision by Marissa into a moral debate without addressing the core issue.  The reality is that regardless of whether they are allowed to work from home, companies may or may not operate within a culture of freedom and responsibility.

Rather than debating the merits of a work-from-home policy, let’s discuss true autonomy. My experience shows that those businesses that build a culture of freedom and responsibility end up doing well by doing good.  It just so happens that by upholding a virtuous management style, employees tend to respond with exceptional work.

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