Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made some waves this week when a leaked memo outlined the company’s plans to rein in working-from-home arrangements. This policy sparked conversations surrounding the benefits and pitfalls of telecommuting.

The Yahoo memo stated, in part, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

But not everyone agrees that being physically present in the workplace is best for productivity and employee morale, and many are questioning Yahoo’s decision.

“Broad policy changes such as ‘no more telecommuting’ don't work; this is role- and work-specific. You can't make policy changes just to address problems that are managerial in nature,” said Jordan Cohen, knowledge worker productivity expert at PA Consulting Group. “The real questions are: What has to be accomplished? and What is the best way to accomplish it? Maybe telecommuting is part of that solution.”

Benefits and Challenges

EHS Today and sister publication IndustryWeek have covered some of the benefits and challenges associated with telecommuting. In “Does Yahoo's Marissa Mayer Have It Right?IndustryWeek shares insight from Ben Waber, Ph.D., who points out that there’s “a big difference” between telecommuting year-round and those who occasionally work from home. Occasional telecommuting, he says, “allows people to deal with one-time events and promotes a less stressful work environment. Remote work, however, means that you lack a social connection to your colleagues. In general, this relates to lower job satisfaction for the entire company, higher turnover, and lower productivity.”

IndustryWeek also counted telecommuting and flexible workplaces as one of the 12 key strategies to achieving a work-life balance, suggesting with work-from-home options are “forward thinking.” And another IndustryWeek article suggests that creating flexible work arrangements, which can include telecommuting, can even prevent workplace suicide.

EHS Today Editor-in-Chief Sandy Smith, meanwhile, extols the virtues of occasionally working from home in her editorial “Flexibility is Good.” She writes:

“While I’m a good multi-tasker, my brain was feeling fried and I decided that a day away from my ringing office phone, continual email updates and office chat would do me some good. And I was right: By 2 p.m., I had edited a contributed feature, finished my feature and put the EHS News department together. I also managed to wash and dry two loads of clothes, take the dogs for a walk, wash a sink full of dishes, make myself a decent lunch and watch a half hour more of CNN than I usually watch in the morning.”

Smith isn't alone in her experiences. A range of studies have demonstrated the potential health and work-life balances associated with at least occasional telecommuting.