In a memo read round the world, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has made it clear that working at home will not be an option on her watch. For a contemporary technology-driven company this is a striking position, one that appears to set back the modern workplace and working parents by about two decades.
Eliminating the ability to telecommute eats away at the core of what Yahoo, an Internet pioneer, and Mayer, a new mother, would seem to be all about. Predictably, reaction was swift. Mommy blogs expressed outrage at this anti-family policy. Technology blogs called it misguided. Workplace blogs said the ban might even be unlawful, though that’s hard to fathom.
No one should be surprised if Mayer reverses herself—like Netflix when it angered millions of faithful customers 17 months ago with a steep price hike masked in a plan to break apart its DVD rental and streaming services. Or, dare I say it, like New Coke. Such blunders surface from time to time in the corporate world and all one can do is marvel.
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Mayer’s edict went out to employees last week in an internal note announcing that starting June 1 all employees will be expected to report to work each day at a Yahoo office. At Mayer’s instruction, Yahoo HR head Jackie Reses wrote the memo, first reported at Allthingsd.com. The memo read, in part:
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
Mayer took the helm at Yahoo in July. She’s been overhauling the troubled company and famously decided to take only two weeks of maternity leave when her son was born in October. So she is leading by example. Things need to change. But in eliminating flexible schedules she is swimming against a strong current. As business blogger Joe McKendrick writes:
“Many companies now work with highly distributed workforces. The reasons tend to be more practical than simply being a feel-good workplace policy: it’s often the best way to recruit the best talent, it saves on relocation costs, and it saves on real-estate costs. Even the U.S. government has an active telecommuting policy.”
A University of Texas at Austin study found that people who work from home “add five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office.” A Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that working remotely “seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism and increase retention.”
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A Cisco study found that the company achieved “new levels of efficiency and effectiveness” after allowing people to work remotely. The study found that 60% of the time saved by telecommuting is spent working.
Sure, there are slackers and many suspect that what Mayer really wants is to drive away dead wood that’s been phoning it in for years. If some valued employees are driven away in the process, so what? The Yahoo workforce is too big anyway. But is this the right way to go about it? Isn’t it management’s responsibility to keep track of telecommuters’ productivity and deal with underperformers one by one? Already there is talk of Silicon Valley competitors using flexible schedules as bait to recruit Yahoo’s best and brightest.
Technology has revolutionized the workplace, allowing people to do their jobs while still caring for a child home from school with the flu or on weekends and vacations when urgent matters surface. Yahoo has a respected place in history as one of the enablers. Turning back the clock can’t be the answer.