Branson: Companies should let staff work from home

Richard Branson.
Richard Branson.

London - Unless you have a technical job like flying an airplane, you can probably do it from home, says Richard Branson.

Companies that forbid the practice, such as Yahoo, put pressure on families and limit opportunities for women, according to the Virgin Group founder.

"Most of the head-office type of jobs around the world, they can offer complete flexibility," said Branson when he sat down with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on Bloomberg TV this week.

"If [people with children] can get the job done at home and they can be around their kids, then I think that's good for the family and good for the business and good for the individual," Branson said.

Asked whether he believes Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer's decision, two years ago, to limit telecommuting puts it on the wrong side of history, Branson said yes — calling it "a mistake" that may not benefit the company's productivity.

Mayer was widely criticised when she ended Yahoo's work-from-home policy in February 2013 because she felt employees "[needed] to be working side-by-side". Critics, including Branson, said that telecommuting typically improves productivity and that the flexibility to stay home occasionally could be the difference between a parent advancing in her career and having to quit. In their lively conversation with Bloomberg's Emily Chang, he and Sandberg again stressed their support for the practice.

There's a difference between seeming productive and being productive, Sandberg said. "Of course we care that people tried, but when you do that, you build this culture of being seen in the office trying, which is different than results," she said.

What's more, much of what happens at work is a performance. "I think a lot of office work and communication is too long, too formal," Sandberg said. "Cutting things down can save a lot of time and make a lot more room for people to be parents."

While many companies endorse some degree of flexibility for parents, working from home as a universal policy is still contentious. On one point, however, few would disagree. Describing the superfluous things about office life, she said: "The meetings are too long."

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