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OM in the News: Human Resource Strategy and the Remote Worker

March 4, 2013

home workers wsjChapter 10 includes a myriad of interesting human resource topics, including job design, ergonomics, methods analysis, labor standards–and flexibility in scheduling workers, such as allowing home offices. But The Wall Street Journal (Feb.27, 2013) writes that although jobs may get done when employees work from home, careers are made in the office. The recent outcry surrounding a decision by Yahoo —led by new CEO Marissa Mayer—to end work-from-home arrangements has shown just how strongly many companies and employees have embraced remote work;  it also underscores tensions between workers’ need for flexibility and their need for visibility.

Companies tout working from home as a benefit that helps recruit and retain talent over the long-term, but workers may be missing out on the personal contacts that get them promoted. Clichés about the water-cooler aside, many managers say having workers in the office makes sense, given greater emphasis on collaboration and group projects. And despite studies showing that home-based workers are happier and may be more productive than their cubicle-bound peers, remote workers must also combat the perceptions among managers and colleagues that they’re not spending the day goofing off. Noting that some of the best insights arise in the hall or cafeteria, Yahoo’s HR head wrote in a company memo that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

The head of another high-tech California firm adds:  “To an employee, I would say that [if you’re working at home] understand you’re signing up to work harder.” Stanford researchers, who spent nine months monitoring a work-from-home program at a 16,000-employee Chinese company, concluded that the lack of face time with bosses caused careers to stall. “Home workers can become forgotten workers,” especially when it comes to bonding with senior management”.

Discussion questions:

1. Relate this article to the subject of Office Layout in Chapter 9.

2. Why is remote work an OM issue?

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