4 Reasons Yahoo's Telecommuting Ban Won't Last
The tech world and its websites are abuzz today with the news: Yahoo is banning any form of telecommuting or working from home beginning this June. Even staying home to wait for cable installation is frowned upon as shown in this confidential memo sent by disgruntled employees to AllThingsD.
For a CEO already under the microscope as a rare female leader taking over a troubled Internet giant, announcing to the world that she's banned telecommuting seems a boneheaded move for Marissa Mayer to make. Here's what I'm wondering:
1. Doesn't Mayer know that telecommuting is good for business?
I'm the author of a book about the benefits of telecommuting--but you don't have to take my word for it. The Huffington Post commentary on Yahoo's new rule lists three separate studies showing employees who telecommute do more work than those who don't. One from Stanford, conveniently, was released on the same day Yahoo sent out its memo.
It makes lots of sense if you just think about it for a second: People who telecommute save anywhere from an hour to two hours or more a day not spent traveling to and from their workplaces. Even if they take one extra hour to play with their kids or start a roast for dinner, chances are there will be more time left over for their jobs. Likewise, if they have a bright idea in the middle of the night, or they just want to finish a report before bedtime, they can easily do those things without waiting to get to the office. Also, most people who work at home enjoy doing so and view it as a privelege. That may make them value and appreciate their jobs all the more.
2. What century is she living in?
It used to be a lot harder for people working at home to stay in close communication with co-workers and bosses but then someone went and invented the Internet. And GoToMeeting. And a host of other tools that people who are comfortable with the Internet can use to stay so completely in touch that they might as well be there. You'd think people at Yahoo would be familiar with that newfangled Internet thing and comfortable using it since they're supposed to be, you know, an online company.
Besides, in the current work environment everyone has mobile devices. Everyone is connected by email, text, conference call, video, social network, and so on at all times. Homes seem more like workplaces than ever before and in this world, the line between at-work and not-at-work is becoming nonexistent. Maybe Mayer is unfamiliar with these newfangled mobile devices as well.
3. Does she thinks telecommuting is one-size-fits-all?
As a manager, the very first thing you learn about telecommuting is this: It doesn't work for everyone. Yes, there are horror stories about employees who are supposed to be working at home actually holding down second jobs. There are people who think they can be full-time telecommuters and provide full-time child care at the same time. There are people who do not perform well--and may actually be unhappy--outside the social atmosphere of the office. That's why employees should be given leave to work from home on a case-by-case basis, and it should start out as a temporary trial.
Likewise, successful telecommuters do need to show up at the office on a regular basis to interact with their colleagues, in addition to remotely attending all meetings. And they need to have clearly delineated responsibilities that can be measured in terms of what they actually get done rather than how many hours they're in the office.
These elements set employees up for a successful telecommuting relationship, and also give managers an empirical way to determine if a telecommuting arrangement isn't working and take appropriate steps to either fix or end it. Within this sort of framework, telecommuting can be a real win-win. But issuing a blanket dictum that no one can telecommute is as nonsensical as issuing one that everyone can. Neither is a good approach to managing a large workforce.
4. Doesn't she care about Yahoo's public image?
The biggest challenge facing tech companies, especially large ones, is finding enough employees with the needed skills. That's forced most high-tech companies to outsource at least some of their programming work to other countries where there are more software engineers available. It's also inspired companies like Google to provide things like free gourmet food.
So why oh why would the CEO of a large tech company want to limit her available talent pool to those who live within a short enough distance from the company's offices to want to make the trip there and back 10 times a week? Why would she announce a blanket no-telecommuting policy and tie the company's hands when trying to recruit sought-after tech talent? To remove the option of working at home as an enticement or a perk during hiring negotiations?
To make Yahoo appear rigid and unreasonable to the entire tech world?
I think with time she will see that the answer to this last question is: she wouldn't. And so I predict that before June is out, the telecommuting ban will either be publicly lifted, or else, it will quietly go unenforced.
MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap
Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.