It has been an interesting time for work at home jobs lately. The big story was when Marissa Mayer at Yahoo announced that all work at home employees would now be required to work at the office, in an effort to be more effective.  Now there’s a state agency in California requiring the same. Best Buy is also canceling its telework program. What’s the big problem with work at home employees for these organizations?

What's With the Work at Home Backlash?One claim is that people who work at home aren’t being as productive.  Clearly, this is true for some employees, but not for all. I’ve always said working at home isn’t for everyone. One of my sisters found that out, and is now much happier working in an office as a software developer. She finds it much easier to collaborate with her coworkers in person, which is the kind of issue Mrs. Mayer is interested in for Yahoo. I don’t entirely agree, but I can see it as an individual preference. I’d rather see flexibility and an effort to make work at home employees more accountable for their time, to help with the issues she found.

I really hate seeing this become such a big issue, as it seriously plays into the stereotype of working at home being unproductive, goofing off and getting paid for it. That’s not how work at home jobs ought to be. You should be treating your work at home job with the same respect you’d treat an outside the home job.

I think a lot of the problem is that many people don’t realize how easy it is to get distracted while working at home. Many people plan on watching their kids while working, but that isn’t always possible. I know my most productive days are the ones where my husband takes care of the kids and I work away from everyone. Because I work online and for myself, I can handle the kids other days, but it absolutely impacts my productivity. If you work for someone else, you may not have that flexibility, and childcare becomes necessary.

What all this really emphasizes to me is that businesses and employees need to find ways to make this work. A telecommuting employee can be more productive than one in the office, so long as he or she takes it seriously. There’s less time for office gossip when you aren’t at the office, after all. Less time for office politics too, which can be both good and bad.

Having clear goals and timeframes is vital. Everyone gets distracted sometimes, but knowing what you need to get done can help keep you on track. Who hasn’t pulled extra hours on a project when it’s nearly due, or taken it a little easy when deadlines seem far away, even in an office?

Honestly, I think an evaluation of individual work at home employees would have made more sense. Tell them that they need to meet certain criteria to keep working from home. I think these companies may lose some good employees who are doing just fine from home, in an effort to deal with the ones who aren’t doing so well. Failure to do this is a management problem, and ignoring that some home based employees do a great job from home isn’t going to motivate them back at the office. Is it that hard to see if an employee is productive just because you don’t see them face to face?

We certainly have the technology to deal with many of the collaboration issues. Not all of them, sure; it’s harder to have those incidental interactions when you aren’t there in person, and sometimes those are important. But not impossible. What it takes is comfort with the technology, and I suspect that this is where management and even employees may be lacking.

I really hope this doesn’t gain any serious popularity. I don’t think it will, but it’s hard enough to find legitimate work at home jobs without some of the best ones going away. It would be far better for employers and employees to come up with ways to determine who is successfully working from home, and who needs to go back to the office.