It all started mid-last month when an internal memo from Yahoo’s relatively new CEO, Marissa Mayer, to her employees quickly became public and ignited a firestorm of debate, one that literally blew up the blogosphere and had everyone talking around the water cooler. In it she stated that Yahoo employees will no longer have the option to work from home as of June 1, but rather will need to report every day to a Yahoo office if they want to keep their jobs.
Outrage over the decision, especially by those individuals and groups who hold themselves up as true workplace-family-friendliness advocates, was swift and loud. The derisive nature of their comments was even more justified, they said, given that Mayer is a mother herself. In fact, she did just have a son in October and only took two weeks off for maternity leave thereafter.
Got to hand it to her, it’s not like the woman isn’t practicing what she preaches. But, does that make her decision any more or less sound?
It’s no secret that Yahoo has been struggling for some time to regain its footing as an internet industry leader and that it’s a bit low on the innovation front right about now, something Mayer was hired to fix. Insiders are saying that much of the company’s problem is that it has become rudderless, with a work-at-home policy that is too loose and ranks fairly low on the accountability scale.
In her memo, Mayer states that this new approach, which disallows employees from working at home, actually will facilitate “communication and collaboration.” It is only in “working side-by-side” that the real work of rebuilding Yahoo can begin, she asserts, so it is “critical that we are all present in our offices.” Furthermore, she claims that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
Analysts who have examined the work-at-home issue say she might just have a point, somewhere in there anyway. All that workplace togetherness can make for enhanced collaboration, which can in turn foster greater innovation. However, there may be a price to be paid when it comes to productivity as well as a whole host of other factors. And as for the idea that working from home promotes its own brand of lazy? That doesn’t seem to hold up either, at least not in most cases.
According to a recent University of Texas at Austin study, folks who are working from home are not slackers, far from it in fact. Telecommuting actually equates to more working hours, not less, as time that would otherwise be spent in transit becomes more productive and technological advancement allows for the integration of work and an employee’s personal life, oftentimes to their detriment. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has this to say: “Where the impact of telecommuting has been empirically evaluated, it seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism and increase retention.”
The bottom line? Workers value control pretty much over anything else when it comes to taking a job or staying in one. In a survey released last month by careerbuilder.com, a flexible schedule ranked number one at 59% among the most-wanted office perks by workers.
Responding to all the criticism this latest move has stirred up, Yahoo had this to say in a statement last week: “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home—this is about what is right for Yahoo, right now.” That kind of language leaves the door open for sure, meaning this latest move may only be a temporary measure to allow Mayer to identify the members of the Yahoo team who should stay and who should go. Then it may be time to reevaluate her company’s position on the issue.
If and when she does, Yahoo may not only become a technological force to be reckoned with once again, but a rejuvenated work-at-home standard bearer for others to emulate, all of which would be a smart move.
“If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working,” said Virgin Group’s Chairman and Founder Richard Branson, weighing in on Yahoo’s controversial decision on his blog last week, “people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality. Working life isn’t 9 to 5 anymore. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.”
What do you think about Yahoo’s new policy on NOT working from home? Are you more productive when you work from home or less? Is having a home office a plus or a distraction? Do you allow your own employees to work from home? Why or why not? We’d like you to weigh in on the debate…