Best Buy Follows Yahoo's Lead, Takes a Look at Employees Working From Home

More Americans telecommute as some companies back away from their policies.

ByABC News
March 6, 2013, 11:10 AM

March 6, 2013 — -- While a report released this week showed more American employees are working from home at least one day a week, some high-profile companies are pushing back, or at least asking, "Is it worth it?"

Best Buy is the latest company to make headlines regarding its company policy toward telecommuting.

The electronics retailer, based in Minneapolis, Minn., said it's not eliminating telecommuting for its corporate employees outright. Minnesota Public Radio reported the company is ending its "results-oriented work environment policy." The company said it just wants employees to discuss with their managers whether they should continue the at-home arrangement.

"Our new policy is not about whether an employee can work from home or not. It's about whether that decision can be made by them alone, or in consultation with their managers," said Jeff Shelman, spokesman for Best Buy, in a statement.

Last month, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sparked office conversation when the Wall Street Journal's All Things D reported Yahoo instructed remote employees to return to company offices.

A memo from Yahoo's human resources department explained that in-person employee interaction fostered a collaborative culture, the New York Times reported.

A spokesperson for Yahoo said the company does not discuss internal matters.

"This isn't a broad industry view on working from home -- this is about what is right for Yahoo!, right now," the company said in a statement.

"It used to be a right, now it's a discussion," Shelman of Best Buy said. "We believe in employee flexibility but it needs to come in the context of a conversation, a conversation that is about what the results are and how the work gets done," Shelman said.

Some studies have showed an increase in productivity or lower costs with telecommuting, including one from Stanford University and Beijing University. That study, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, found Chinese call-center workers who telecommuted took fewer breaks and worked more efficiently.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau released a report on Tuesday that showed that 4.2 million more Americans in the U.S. between 1997 and 2010 were working at home.

The report, which describes the country's commuters through data from the annual American Community Survey, also showed 8.1 percent of U.S. workers commute 60 minutes or more.

The report showed 13.4 million people, or 9.4 percent of workers studied in the Survey of Income and Program Participation, said the worked at least one day at home per week, an increase of 35 percent since 1997. Back then, 9.2 million out of 132 million workers said they did so.

The Census Bureau said of those who worked from home, 39.4 percent were private company workers in 1980 compared with 59.5 percent in 2010. The rest were self-employed and government workers. Home-based workers were the least likely to be government employees in both 1980, at 4.2 percent, and 2010, at 5.6 percent.

One in four home-based workers is employed in management, business and financial occupations.

Mark Dixon, founder and chief executive of Regus, a provider of flexible workspace, said Best Buy and Yahoo's decisions don't take into account that remote working doesn't have to be a choice between the office and the home.

"In growing numbers, people are working in a variety of 'third spaces,' including, hotel lobbies, public libraries, and coffee shops," Dixon said in a statement. "Professional third spaces, such as shared or 'co-working' office environments, are designed to be used on a drop-in, pay-as-you-go basis with customizable terms based on an individual or business' need."

Dixon said the companies Regus works with encourage employees to use these third spaces to network and interact with other "like-minded professionals" on days they can't be in the office.

"If you link performance expectations and rewards to output rather than presence and give employees the choice to work where it best suits them, businesses will see morale and productivity rise," Dixon said.