Telecommuting: 1, Marissa Mayer: 0

Telecommuting: 1, Marissa Mayer: 0

Why you should care

Everyone’s scrambling to understand the new work order. Here’s one study that backs up employees who want to work from home. 

Working from home feels like the Holy Grail of professional employment — no crowded trains or long car rides, no co-worker’s smelly tuna sandwiches, no boss breathing down your neck.

But does it work for business?

According to Yahoo’s chief, no — Marissa Mayer famously made headlines when one of her first moves as CEO last year was to revoke regular telecommuting.

Wait, says a new study out of the University of Illinois. Managers may want to turn that around.

More than 300 workers and more than 140 managers involved in the study showed that telecommuting, when done right, boosts “citizenship” — what professor Ravi S. Gajendran calls the performances not listed on annual reviews, but that make us good worker bees in a company environment.

Workers appreciative of the perk work hard to keep it.

This holds true when telecommuting taps a chosen few, who feel extra honored. But even when everyone participates, telecommuting doesn’t hurt — the study found people don’t do worse than in the office, even the ones not held in the highest regard.

“Managers can treat telecommuting as an ideal that is mutually beneficial to the employee and the organization and as a form of work redesign that generates autonomy perceptions, a valuable job resource that could improve employee productivity and contextual performance,” the study found.

The reason: autonomy. We humans like to feel as if we have a say in our lives, our careers, the tasks we do, and how we do them. Other research proves this, and a host of management materials dedicate their guidance to teaching bosses how to make their employees feel like they’re making their own decisions and have their own skin in the game, as it were. Ownership, in a non-monetary sense, counts.

For managers, relaxing tough telecommuting rules might create a better working community, Gajendran says. Especially for employees who don’t hold a favored status — those who don’t see a lot of perks, well, they see permission to telecommute as a huge deal, and respond in kind. So if you have someone who feels frustrated in the office, letting them go (home) could offer serious dividends.

“Employees see this as a big deal,” Gajendran says.

For employees, aside from handing them a copy of the study, perhaps ask just to try the new arrangement out for a month, or six weeks, Gajendran suggests. If you’re bumping heads with a supervisor, clearing the air a little might feel refreshing to everyone. And distance could make the employee a better team player.

This piece was originally published Oct. 14, 2014, and updated as of Nov. 27, 2014.

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