Yahoo's Marissa Mayer bans working remotely, which Forbes contributor Peter Cohan calls an "epic fail." At the very least it seems counter to the trend and a step back in time.
I addressed this topic directly in a blog posted, on this site Feb 27, 2012 - The Value Embedded in Tele-Commuting. One year old today, but still very valid.
I think this is a way for her to "shed people"on some level. This concept is just bad business in today's world. Not only will they lose talent, but they will have trouble recruiting the best talent. If you believe people need to be in the office with some level of frequency then you can find a compromise, but "no exceptions" with no flexibility creates tension in the work environment.
For some jobs like strategic planning, face to face is often customary and necessary. Other positions like data mining and customer service are quite independent and allow ease of telecommuting. I am guessing Yahoo is in crisis and wants every boot on the ground until they figure out where they fit and are going.
The arguments I heard for the change on NPR are interesting, though I cannot judge their correctness. According to the interviews, productivity is improved by telecommuting, but innovation is not. The theory is that, for real innovation to occur, fact-to-face meetings are required. In its present state, Yahoo sees a greater need for innovation than for productivity gains.
I"m not sure it improves productivity, with all the distractions that can take place at home. We allow it at our company 1 day a week for sales people but we can track how much time they spend on our programs remotely. But are they just logged in, or are they actually there working? It is productive for people out with illness, injury or pregnant.
Take a look around us. We communicate non-stop through a device that has taken the humanity away from us and no longer know how to discuss ideas face-to-face. I applaud Ms. Mayer for taking the risk of doing something bold. If it works, she'll be called a visionary, when all she's really doing is going back to basics.
It also seems to me that people are evaluating this decision as a zero-sum game - it either works or it fails. I suspect that it will really help the company succeed in some areas, but may hurt them in other areas. One can only surmise that they have a reason for doing this, and that there is a reasonable foundation for the decision.
Frankly, I hope it works.
I realize that telecommuting is the latest "fad", but I have yet to buy into it. I see more benefit in having people show up for work everyday, interract with each other, and form bonds that drive corporate successs. Call me old school, but I see this concept failing in my company because supervisors have no clue how to measure how much work is actually getting done. I'm sure there are many days where more laundry is getting done at home than actual work. But I'm sure Ms. Mayer has her reasons. Perhaps she sees more names on the payroll than cars in the parking lot and is trying to determine how many "real" employees she actually has?
Between her ban on telecommuting and her thought experiment on constantly thinking about how she could replace her executive team, I'm not so sure Ms. Mayer will be nominated for "boss of the year" this year.
Perhaps there is a compromise. A one or two mandatory day in the office policy with the other days structured to work from home. I think Yahoo is taking a significant gamble in the top talent department. The always-connected generation doesn't need much incentive to move on these days.
Pros: Reduction in energy consumption, less distractions; less discrimination against the physically challenged
Cons: Loss of socializing and collaboration, lack of ability to supervise, technical challenges
Bottom line: Needs to be evaluated on a case to case basis and may change over time
In my experience, Telecommuting policies have required a separate work area including resources that cannot be shared with the rest of the household. This stops people from doing laundry, keeping vacationing children occupied, the occaisional errands mid-day, social networking on the same computer, and other work interference from taking an employee away from being 'on-site' in a virtual world. This, in addition to a policy requiring on-site attendance once per week/month, or one week per quarter, keeps everyone's face fresh and in front of their teammates. I think people can appreciate that working from home comes with responsibilities that they might not have if they were physically planted at the office.
When the boss is out for the day, I see employees stroll in late, socialize more during the day, and skip out early at the end of the day. It's obvious that they take advantage of that situation. But I'm supposed to believe they will act differently if given the "sacred responsibility" of managing themselves when they work at home?? Yeah, right.
Some of the network geeks work longer and harder than anyone would as an office drone. Who among the office drones is "on call" 24/7? But the telecommuters are, and they're the ones who keep Flickr running. (Flickr is the element of Yahoo that actually has value.) Flickr is constantly going down. If you fire the people who have kept it running all these years, what do you imagine will be the outcome?
Besides, you can't test an online system from inside the firewall.
Just because Ms. Mayer lacks the discipline to work from home doesn't mean that all telecommuters are slackers.
Truth to tell, this is a stealth layoff, and there may be a violation of the Warn Act. Likely the cost of the litigation plus the diminished value of Yahoo will remove any "benefit" this little move is likely to produce.
I can only speak for myself. Over the course of my 25 year career, when I was in a situation where I was working by myself, I was able to get a lot done. But each position is different and each person has various capability levels.
Perhaps a right blend of both would be advisable.
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