Kentucky workers join growing work-at-home trend

When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced recently that her employees were now banned from working from home, it set off a firestorm of controversy. Mayer, hired last summer to turn around the struggling media giant, believes speed and quality are sacrificed when people work from home and that the Yahoo! needs to be “one,” meaning workers physically in the same place.

The move seems to go against the grain of current work trends. More and more companies offer flex-time opportunities to their employees.

“I hope that isn’t a trend, because research shows flexible work arrangements really do improve employee engagement, motivation and job satisfaction,” said Meredith Wells-Lepley, senior research associate for iwin, the Institute for Workplace Innovation at the University of Kentucky.

The institute says its mission is to develop and disseminate knowledge about the 21st century workplace to create work environments that boost the bottom line, employee health and work-life fit.

That last part — work-life fit — may be the key.

“The way people work is much different than in the past,” said Wells-Lepley. “Nowadays, people want work-life balance and request flexible work arrangements, like working from home or coming into the office fewer days of the week.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 25 percent of American employees worked at home at least sometime in 2010. The number may be higher since the deep recession has forced companies to cut costs.

Call it the “new office”

“It’s mostly being initiated by Generation X [born 1965-1976] and Generation Y, a.k.a. the Millennials [born from the late ’70s/early ’80s to 2000],” said Wells-Lepley. “Many of them want that work/life balance more than money and status. Also, some baby boomers are actually saying, ‘Hey, I like this,’” said the researcher.

“I think businesses will realize their ‘office-ing’ is outdated, and they must spend money to upgrade their offices to make them support the way people work today,” said Wells-Lepley.

Companies may fear some workers are goofing off while away from the office.

“Some firms still operating in the old model are afraid of that,” she said. “They think people need to be at their desks from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and if the supervisor is seeing them, then the work must be getting done. Thankfully, I think that’s rare.”

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