Recently, Fortune 500 giants Yahoo and Best Buy became targets of heated criticism after they dropped a bombshell: their employees would no longer be allowed to work from home.

You could almost hear the shrieks of shocked telecommuters who would now have to return to the office—or find new jobs, and the news has triggered a fresh debate: is telecommuting best for employer or employee? And does it help or hurt a woman’s career?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reasoned that ending the company’s telecommuting arrangement would promote “communication and collaboration,” according to an internal email published by All Things D. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions,” the memo read, “meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.

Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

As a busy entrepreneur and professional career coach, I operate my business with a “virtual” team of six employees, all of whom telecommute.

Nancy is in Colorado, Mary in Los Angeles, Sol is in Argentina, Alina in Italy, Donna somewhere in Europe, and Michael is in Philadelphia and it works beautifully, most of the time—for them and for me.
The good news is that it is possible to do that; the bad news is that managing your team is exponentially more difficult. As a business owner you have to rely on the honesty and professionalism of your team that you often haven’t even met in person. Sometimes you win big and the person you hire turns out to be a keeper and sometimes, as in the case of a recent executive assistant, what looks good on paper doesn’t work out so well in real life. This particular team member took a fulltime job without as much mentioning it and she just disappeared never to be heard from again.

Hire the right people

The key is to find the right people who can take an assignment or task and run with it, not sit on it. I expect my team to deliver quality work without my having to follow up and nag them about deadlines.

That means you have to hire people who are very good at what they do and do not need you to helicopter over them.

Also you need good systems in place to trace what they do. We communicate through SkpeSkype and run our meetings through Go To Meeting, our files are on Dropbox and our projects in Basecamp.

Our scheduling is done through iCal and three people have access to my calendar. Our communication is as good as our productivity tools and our commitment to using them.
While Mayer claimed she was reversing company policy to build a better workplace, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research highlighted the benefits of telecommuting.

About 10 percent of employees regularly work from home, according to the study and working remotely led to a 13 percent performance increase. It also found that employees who were able to work from home reported improved work satisfaction and companies experienced less turnover.
It allows my client Victoria to raise her two teenage girls and launch a successful photo syndication web company right from her living room.

It saves Mary, one of my copywriters, a weekly 280-mile round-trip commute from her home to my office and it allows Nancy, my efficient project manager to enjoy her semi-retirement with her husband, dogs, and beautiful garden in the rustic Colorado mountains. My advantage is happier team members and as an added bonus I find that the sensitivities of the different areas and countries that each bring to the table only adds to our products. We truly can cater to the tastes of an international community because we are one ourselves.

Down side and career impact?

Let’s look at the disadvantages of telecommuting: management mistrust, worker isolation, data security concerns and worry about career impact.

The main problem telecommuters face is the perception of being “invisible” to their boss and fellow colleagues.

If you want to work from home, says a recent study by Korn/Ferry Institute, you may have to sacrifice long-term career goals to do so. While the vast majority of executives embrace telecommuting as a strategy to boost productivity and allow working parents to continue their careers, the study found, they also see it as a recipe for career stagnation.

"While working at home can be beneficial for both companies and workers, it can also lead to 'invisibility' that can limit opportunities for career advancement," said Ana Dutra, CEO of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting. "It is important for telecommuters to remain networked as closely as possible with peers and leaders in the office."

I wholeheartedly agree with this and staying connected often falls through the cracks. Especially when the boss (me) has several businesses and an extensive travel schedule. You have to find a way to stay connected on a weekly basis.

How to make it work
For telecommuting to work, employees must be measured by what they do, not where they do it. I learned the best way to compensate remote teams is on performance and what is actually done. Tangible items are the measure of choice.
As a virtual employee, you need to find ways to connect with executives and colleagues but that doesn’t have to be in person to be effective.

If you are a remote employee, research which productivity tools will assist you to stay in touch. Use Skype and Go To Meeting often so that you are “seen” and “heard” at the same time. It makes a huge difference when I have that face-to-face connection.

Successful teleworking programs overcome the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue with clearly defined goals and performance-based measurement systems. Remote workers who maintain regular communications (telephone, email, instant chat, and the occasional face-to-face meeting) with traditional co-workers and managers find career impact is not an issue.

My team and I schedule weekly video meetings that generally last a half hour to an hour. The shorter it is, the more focused everyone has to be.. In meetings we stick to tasks:

--Make it about the work and be clear who is in charge of which project
--Set clear goals and deliverables
--Ask questions. What do you need from me to get this done?
--Bring virtual project team members together for regular video meetings (I suggest weekly)
--Celebrate accomplishments

Author's Bio: 

Beate Chelette is a respected career coach, consummate entrepreneur and founder of The Women’s Code, a unique guide to personal and career success that offers a new code of conduct for today’s business, private and digital world. Determined to build a community of women helping each other, after selling one of her companies, BeateWorks, to Bill Gates in 2006 for millions of dollars, Beate launched The Women’s Code to reach women everywhere.