Compromise would soften Yahoo!’s ban on working from home

26 Feb 2013

Employees of internet giant Yahoo! received a memo last week telling them that come 1 June, there would be no more working from home – a confusing order, considering what Yahoo! had outlined and demonstrated previously.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” the leaked memo written by Yahoo!’s head of human resources Jackie Reses reads.

“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.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the news has not gone down well with employees who will have relocate or even give up their jobs. However, it would be beneficial to be physically present, according to the memo:

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” the memo reads.

Mixed messages

Now here’s where Yahoo!’s ban on working from home gets confusing.

When Marissa Mayer took on the Yahoo! CEO job in July, she was pregnant. She had told Fortune she planned to go back to work soon after giving birth.

“I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she said. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”

The assumption is she was working from home, then.

When Reses joined Yahoo! shortly after Mayer, she stated that as Yahoo! looks to develop and define its future, hiring, managing and incentivising talent “will be of key importance.”

Then came a Friday night email Mayer had sent to employees.

“Share your ideas on what would make your job easier, boost your productivity, and help solve problems,” the email reads.

Many employees would disagree that taking away the ability to work from home is an incentive or that it would boost productivity. Just think of all that time sitting in traffic that could be spent working instead, for example.

What appears to be lacking in Yahoo’s ban on working from home is compromise.

Employees working from home, for example, could come into the office once or twice a week to meet, brainstorm, plan and discuss ideas. The technology that exists today – such as instant messaging and videoconferencing – now makes communicating easier than ever.

Banning working from home is such a backwards step for a company like Yahoo! to take.

Not all jobs are the same

Peter Cohan, in an article for Forbes, wrote that working from home may depend on an employee’s role.

For example, Mayer’s former employer, Google, consists of engineers who invent new businesses that help it to boost its top line.

“And new business ideas get better when smart people from different disciplines randomly bump into each other in the same building to discuss and refine those ideas. Nevertheless, Google allows its employees to work at home on a case-by-case basis according to the New York Times,” wrote Cohan.

Then there are jobs that are more operational rather than creative, and thus able to be carried out outside the office, Cohan pointed out.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to new ways of working,” Martin Cullen said last March.

Cullen is a director at software giant Microsoft, developer of a New World of Work guide to help firms implement a flexible working strategy for their employees.

“Each business has to go on its own journey. But the need to make these changes has never been greater. The continuing economic crisis along with an increasing lack of skilled workers, and the need for greater business efficiency and agility presents a compelling case for businesses to adopt flexible working as a cornerstone of their future success.”

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic