Great ideas happening around the water coolerLast week on I wrote how even the most forward-thinking employers are haunted by the prospect of their remote workers goofing-off from home—or the mall, or the movies—instead of working. Then Yahoo! sent a memo to its people, telling them they’d better get showered, get dressed and get back to the office.

In fact, the memo, leaked to All Things D (a technology news source), offers two contrasting justifications for Yahoo’s decision to recall its workers. The primary message is one of togetherness, conveyed with warm phrases such as, “communication and collaboration [are] important, so we need to [work] side-by-side” and “some of the best decisions and insights come from…impromptu team meetings”.

But one sentence—the shortest in the entire memo—stands out as what’s likely the real reason Yahoo! decided to pull the plug on telecommuting: “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”. Reading between the lines (or, rather, reading this actual line from Yahoo’s memo), it becomes clear that Yahoo! was disappointed with the performance of its remote employees.

The Real Problem: Ineffective Management

I’ve worked for the man and have seen first-hand: There are too many full-time jobs out there that can be completed by the average worker in 15 hours per week. When employees are doing laundry or cooking dinner at home instead of working, it’s not because they’re at home…it’s because they don’t have work to do, or because no one will care if they don’t do their work. And let’s not kid ourselves. There’s plenty of insubordination wrought by on-site employees. Ever wonder how the top performer who gave notice on Wednesday managed to launch their new start-up, replete with shiny-new website, blog and Facebook fan page (already with 10,000  likes) the following Monday? Do you really think they laid all that groundwork in their spare time?

Despite so many top-heavy organizations, there is a lack of effective management in today’s workplace. Effective management means that employees have well-defined goals and are held to clearly communicated expectations; their time, effort and output are accounted for; and they understand that they must either submit work that is of high quality, creative and on-time, or they will no longer have a job. With these ground rules firmly (and fairly) established and enforced, it no longer matters if employees gather around the water cooler or a web cam. True creativity cannot be stifled by physical distance.

Sir Richard Branson summed it up well: “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done and get to spend more time with their families. They waste less time commuting [note: the average U.S. worker spends one hour per day commuting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (2009)] and get a better work-life balance. To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking”.

Resume Deli’s workforce is 100% remote. Employees are granted a ton of latitude regarding when and from where they can do their work and are held accountable for high-quality output. Most importantly, no one disappears into the background. Everyone’s work is accounted for and assessed on a regular basis. My attitude is, so long as my employees are performing at or above expectations, they can do their laundry whenever they like. That’s the benefit of working from home.