Does Yahoo!’s edict spell the end for the home worker?
MARISSA Mayer must have caused a panic among the makers of onesies when she issued the now infamous edict that home workers at Yahoo! should get off the sofa, put the pizza back in the fridge and make their way into the office, sharpish.
The unexpected instruction from the former Google executive not only put the cat among the pigeons for teleworkers, it also drove a coach and horses through the current received wisdom about future trends in the working environment. For years now, it has been a given that the office is so last century; t hat t echnological advances have removed the need for the misery and wastefulness of the daily commute; and that employees should have some say in where they earn their daily bread.
Richard Branson, who does a lot of his home working from Necker Island, was among the first of the white knights to weigh in on the side of homeworkers, denouncing Mayer’s move as “a backward step”. Others questioned her motives and rationale. However, the Yahoo! boss had done her homework. Unusually for a top level CEO, Mayer had checked the virtual private network logs –leading some tech analysts to comment that most CEOs don’t even know what a VPN is.
The logs showed that some employees weren’t using it enough – the implication being that these were the ones trimming their bonsais instead of being fully dedicated to the greater glory of Yahoo!. So several hundred remote workers will be back under the management gaze from June.
What does this mean for the growing army of remote workers who currently stay in touch through webcams, fast broadband and smartphones – and for employers, a total of 59% of whom were offering teleworking in 2011, up from 13% in 2006?
One sector in which there has been a huge upsurge in interest in the concept has been the contact centre industry. A recent survey suggested that 84% of managers in charge of large contact centres see the employment of remote agents as the next big trend, paving the way to lower fixed costs and a new and more qualified pool of candidates.
Anne Marie Forsyth is chief executive of the Glasgow-based, Customer Contact Association, a UK-wide body of more than 850 members that includes majors such as Tesco, RBS, NHS24, Bank of America, Serco and Capita.
She said: “People have been talking about it for a long time in the contact centre sector. Some have successfully tried it, such as BT’s directory enquiries, but so far they have been mostly niche applications. There are two models: bringing in self-employed people who are motivated and want the hours; and, like Tesco, directly employing hundreds of home workers who have the same conditions as people who are working centrally. With recent advances in security failsafes, it is really going to take off over the next few years.”
Forsyth was reluctant to praise or criticise Mayer’s decision. She said: “She is in charge of Yahoo! and she has to make the best business decision for her company.
“Providing people don’t feel they are missing something and providing that she doesn’t lose good staff – and she will have done the analysis on it – then she’s entitled to