Work at Work, Says HP’s Meg Whitman


Posted: October 10th, 2013

Category: Editorial

The debate rages on. Imagine two employee scenarios. In the first, a guy gets up at 6:30. Showered and shaved, he gets all up in his professional outfit and faces rush hour. Forty-five minutes later, our man pulls into a spot and rushes to get to his desk. Scenario number two: Joe Q. Public isn’t so public in this version. He sits down to work from home at 7:30 am. Did he shower, shave and get dressed? Probably not.

With anytime/anywhere computing, it's easier than ever to get work done from home. But is there a productivity cost? It’s just been reported that Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg “eBay” Whitman is quietly tightening up HP work-from-home policies. Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer caught major heat when she enacted a ban on telecommuting. Yahoo stock prices are up, but neither public opinion nor the stats are in Mayer’s favor.

Working from home (or the local Starbucks) is trending up in America. A study from Global Workplace Analytics found that the telecommuting workforce increased by a whopping 79.7% between 2005 and 2012.

Scott Berkun, who wrote the book "The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work," says that given the veritable eons of time employees would gain if they dropped the daily commute, why wouldn't employers want workers to try telecommuting? It has the potential to improve quality of life and performance. Cutting out a daily 45-minute commute each way adds up to 375 extra hours per year. Sixty-three percent of employers now allow workers to telecommute, according to the Families and Work Institute.

You’re probably thinking, are employees working or just “working” from home; meaning, are they actually doing chores around the house or catching up on other personal business? Employers can’t exactly install NannyCams to find out what their workers are up to at any given moment. But they can take steps to ensure that work is getting done. Measure success not by hours on the job but by output. If an employee is responsible for generating a weekly spreadsheet, that’s a deliverable that can be measured. It’s on you as an employer to hire self-directed people who feel a sense of ownership for your business.

Here’s the thing. Suppose your employee does take a break to greet the kids when they get home from school. That is exactly the kind of thing that makes for a happier worker. And a happier worker is more productive and loyal.

If you are a taskmaster, you’re fighting a losing battle. If you are keeping an eye on your staff’s online status every minute of the day, your employees will quickly feel trapped, and you can accomplish that feat just as easily at the office. So don’t blame the guy in the boxers.