Yahoo! Ban on Telecommuting Causes Debate

New company policy mandating working in the office raises debate on telecommuting

By Mary Patrick
Posted March 22, 2013 04:00 PM

Unless there’s a change of mind in the coming months, Yahoo! employees who had the ability to telecommute will have to get themselves to the office on work days starting in June.

Marissa Mayer, the new chief executive officer of Yahoo!, caused a stir in February when she announced the new policy. In an internal memo that was republished in multiple media outlets, Mayer said:

“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.”

The question for those working at Yahoo! – and other companies that permit telecommuting – is simply: Is she right?

Does Telecommuting Promote Laziness?

The common belief among many managers is that allowing people to work from home promotes laziness, allowing workers to do less because they are not in an office. Recent studies, however, have shown this is not the case.

A Stanford study from February reported that call center employees had a 13% increase in productivity when working from home. Businesses who allowed call center workers to telecommute also saw less turnover and improved worker satisfaction.

In 2012, the University of Texas released a study showing home workers actually worked five to seven more hours per week than those at offices. Also in 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported those who work remotely had boosted productivity and decreased absence from work.

At the same time, however, the Huffington Post reports that a MIT Sloan School of Management study found managers are 9% more likely to find office workers dependable.

Yahoo! Telecommuting Policy Decision Comes Under Attack

Mayer has been credited with turning around struggling Yahoo!, which went through four different chief executives in recent years and laid off hundreds of employees. The stock price has risen as the bottom line has improved.

Still, her decision on telecommuting has come under attack and fired a debate on the policy.

The U.S. Census reports that telecommuting has become more prevalent in the American workforce, with about 9% of employees working at least one day a week from home. The obvious benefit is it allows flexibility for workers who can more easily fit work in and around their home schedule, particularly where kids are involved.

“Mayer has taken a giant leap backward,” authors Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler said in a written statement. They co-wrote “Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It: A Results-Only Guide to Taking Control of Work, Not People.”

They went on to say: “Instead of keeping great talent, she is going to find herself with a workplace full of people who are good at showing up and putting in time vs. a workforce that could most effectively and efficiently drive the business forward in the 21st century.

Decision Might Be Right For Yahoo!

Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., told USA Today that the success of working at home usually depends on the job involved. For example, those writing computer code or creating content for a Website have defined outcomes, both in what is expected to be produced and when it is expected to be delivered.

He also said that while he expects telecommuting to increase – even the government is pushing for it as a way to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution – it may have been a good move for Mayer and Yahoo!

“Yahoo! is one messed-up company right now,” Wadhwa told USA Today. “The culture is in awful shape -- values, loyalty, you name it. Marissa inherited a complete mess.

“By bringing everyone in-house, she'll be able to reprogram the company's work culture while also easily jettisoning a lot of deadwood employees who aren't doing much now. You can't do that weed-and-feed with people at home."

Whether she goes through with the plan, or other companies follow suit, remains to be seen.

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