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Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer used data analytics to justify her company’s ban last week on telecommuting, according to Business Insider. It seems Mayer doesn’t do much without lots of data backing her up.

Telecommuting and Big Data 03-07-2013-A
VPN records allegedly indicated that Yahoo! employees were not “working” while working from home.

In this case, Mayer consulted logs from Yahoo!’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), which employees use to remotely access the company’s network. Since workers weren’t logging in from home often enough for Mayer’s liking, they will do so from the office.

Calling all cars back to the Yahoo! parking lot has created quite a buzz around the water cooler, as well as among pajama-clad telecommuters. Working from home has its advantages and disadvantages, and Big Data may help companies decide which policy is best for them.

Pros & Cons

Detriments to telecommuting, as told coincidentally by Yahoo! Voices, include:

  • Far-flung employees cannot attend meetings in person or perform certain tasks.
  • Some workers will inevitably goof off.
  • Sensitive company property may have to leave company premises.

And here are some benefits to working from home, courtesy of Houston Chronicle:

  • Employee satisfaction is higher and turnover is lower among happy telecommuters.
  • Companies save on furniture, rent and utilities, while employees save on commuting costs.
  • Employers can choose from a wider talent pool and enjoy a smaller carbon footprint.

Big Data to the Rescue!

Listing pros and cons is all well and good, but people like Yahoo!’s Mayer need more than gut instincts or warm fuzzies to make up their minds. Big Data can help businesses avoid traffic jams on their way to a happy and productive workforce, according to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Telecommuting and Big Data 03-07-2013-B
Companies use sensors to track how often employees leave their desks and meet with colleagues. (graphic from The Wall Street Journal)

“As Big Data becomes a fixture of office life, companies are turning to tracking devices to gather real-time information on how teams of employees work and interact,” WSJ stated. “Sensors, worn on lanyards or placed on office furniture, record how often staffers get up from their desks, consult other teams and hold meetings.”

Surveys describe how people feel at the moment, but proper analytics of sensor data can help employers understand how people work. This can help businesses increase productivity by improving break times, break types (i.e., individual or group breaks) and team configurations.

“But there’s a fine line between Big Data and Big Brother, at least in the eyes of some employees, who might shudder at the idea of the boss tracking their every move,” WSJ stated. “Sensor proponents, however, argue that smartphones and corporate I.D. badges already can transmit their owner’s location.”

Private Eyes Are Watching You

There are lots of reasons why people are dismayed over Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo!, ranging from a few bad apples spoiling the bunch to the nursery Mayer had built in her own office. But it all boils down to privacy -- people in the West want to know that there are some things about them that others don’t know.

“Canadians are more concerned about the erosion of privacy than terrorist threats and global warming,” my colleague Doug Shirra wrote on SAP Business Trends on Tuesday. “Privacy was only second to concern over a return of the financial crisis.”

Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions can scrub a company’s data from personal devices when employees leave a company, but those people still want a degree of anonymity while they’re on the job. As companies use data about workers to streamline the workplace, the trick will be finding the balance between data analytics and personal privacy.

Related Media:

Tracking Sensors Invade the Workplace” in The Wall Street Journal

How Marissa Mayer Figured Out Work-At-Home Yahoos Were Slacking Off” in Business Insider

Customer Experience: The Consumer is King of the CASL” in SAP Business Trends