When Marissa Mayer disclosed an end to Yahoo's telecommuting program this week, the Twittersphere erupted, as a cacophony of environmentalists, parenting groups, work-life balance organizations, and teleworker advocates bombarded the Internet against the relative few who sided with the Yahoo CEO.
In today's workplace, entire international teams can work together without leaving the comfort of their homes or local coffee shops, thanks to powerful and relatively inexpensive broadband, strong laptops and smartphones, cloud computing and virtualization, and collaborative applications such as videoconferencing and instant messaging. Why, then, force perhaps thousands of Yahoo employees back into their cars, onto freeways, and into Yahoo offices?
It could be Mayer's Waterloo, given the exodus of talent along with the desired departure of allegedly poorly performing remote workers.
Employees ranging from customer service reps to engineers are now expected to work at a Yahoo office full-time, reported Kara Swisher of AllThingsD. The company announced the change, slated to begin in June, through an HR-generated memo, Swisher wrote.
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. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Beginning in June, we're asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn't just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.
Earlier today, CBS This Morning (video clip not yet available) mentioned that Mayer had viewed remote workers' VPN usage, only to discover that employees were not using the virtual private network when and as often as they should be. If true, this would sound alarm bells for any executive, especially one at the helm of a company facing as many challenges as Yahoo does today.
The company may be looking to cut workers and hopes some of these employees who "weren't productive [and] hid" will quit, a source told BusinessInsider. Staff size bloated over the years, this source said, and Mayer is merely trying to trim unnecessary fat to get Yahoo into a more competitive condition.
The world reacts
Punishing everyone for a few people's alleged abuse of a system is just as wrong at Yahoo as it is in a classroom, village, or nation. In dismissing the benefits of telecommuting for the spirit of working side-by-side, Yahoo has struck another discordant note in its already poor morale.
Business pundits from Sir Richard Branson to a Harvard Business professor disparaged the move.
Wrote Virgin founder Branson:
To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision... We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will... If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality. Working life isn't 9-5 any more. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.
Unsurprisingly, Swisher received the "confidential" memo from at least one disgruntled employee. She received comments from former and existing Yahoo employees who described noisy cubicle farms, cheerleading sessions, and hours wasted by chatty colleagues as reasons they preferred telecommuting. Most of us can sympathize.
One frequent reason telecommuter advocates use, however, doesn't seem right to me. Parents sometimes view telecommuting as the answer to daycare problems. And it is great for occasional or emergency use, but not as a daily alternative for babies and preschoolers who need frequent attention that full-time schedules don't really allow. When my daughter was born, I didn't think I could handle the meetings, regular deadlines, and travel demands of my full-time position. Being a writer and editor, I was fortunate to develop a freelance business; I only returned to the full-time, corporate world when she was older.
I think corporations are better served establishing a subsidized, on-premises daycare facility if they're looking to assuage employees' babysitting worries. If too small to do it themselves, partnering with other small or midsize companies at a central location may be an option.
But telecommuting has lots of independent benefits -- and most users aren't parents of youngsters. Among telecommuting pluses: Commuters spend an average of $1,000 monthly for the privilege of driving to and from work, 35 percent would choose to work from home over a pay raise, 37 percent of IT pros would take a pay cut of 10 percent to telecommute, 46 percent of American companies say teleworking has reduced attrition, and 95 percent of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention.
With so many advantages, it's hard to believe Mayer's ban will last forever. But while it's in place, I'd wager recruiters and competitors are busily dialing Yahoo employees, no matter where they work, to see if they can sail into the sunset to another telecommuting job at a more flexible company.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution