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LI execs split on Yahoo's telecommuting ban

Employees of Thought Box, a group of start-up

Employees of Thought Box, a group of start-up firms in Hicksville supported by investor Mark Fasciano work in the office. Fasciano says that is essential. Employees are, from left, Michael Fuschetto, Eric Maccabi and Supriya Garg. (Feb. 28, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Yahoo Inc. last week shocked many in the business community when it told employees it was going to ban working from home.

The Internet media company wants to become more innovative, and it believes the best path is "side-by-side" communication and collaboration among employees, according to a company memo that was leaked and posted on the web.


Will Yahoo's new policy deliver? Local business executives and experts are split on what effect such a shift could have.

Mark Fasciano, managing director of Hicksville-based Canrock Ventures, which invests in tech start-ups, believes Yahoo made the right decision. Start-ups as well as more established companies seeking to regain their competitive edge need all hands in the office, he said.

"For entrepreneurial innovation teams, there is simply no substitute for physically being close to your teammates," Fasciano said. "Ninety percent of the trust and progress a team makes happens in the informal interactions at desks, water coolers, coffee breaks, pizza parties."

Owners of more established companies had differing views.

Louis Basso, who heads Alcott HR Group, a Farmingdale-based human-resource services company, agreed with Fasciano. What you might gain in savings on real estate and office overhead, he said, "you may negate . . . because of not having someone in the office on a full-time basis, which can be more productive and add to the value of the business."


But he believes telecommuting is an effective, short-term solution to scheduling problems when employees have to deal with personal matters.

Adrienne Giannone, the head of Edge Electronics, a Bohemia company that distributes electronic components and LCD screens, said 14 of her 35 employees are workers who telecommute in five states, including California and Tennessee. She estimates she saves as much as $100,000 a year in real estate costs. And she said the telecommuting employees are more likely to do work after hours.

"I find that productivity is actually better," Giannone said.

One business expert cautioned that Yahoo's ban isn't without risks. It could alienate the talent the company has or wants to attract, particularly younger workers.

"The younger generation is so much more used to communication that isn't face to face," said Comila Shahani-Denning, the director of Hofstra University's master's program in industrial/organizational psychology. "If you are hiring new employees, you are almost forcing them to do something they are not comfortable with."


Telecommuting continues to be very much a part of American worklife. About 21 percent of employed people did some or all of their work at home in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the number is even higher for college-educated workers: Thirty-six percent of employed people 25 and older and with at least a bachelor's degree did some work at home.

Fasciano, the investor, believes that the scope of telecommuting has unfortunately morphed into a one-size-fits-all perk. It is anything but that, he said.

"Telecommuting to accommodate workers' flexibility somehow went from once-in-a-while to the norm," he said. "And while it may work for some big companies, it definitely doesn't work for building new products to market."


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