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Get Real: Working From Home Does Not Destroy Productivity

Yahoo's new policy requiring everyone to be in the office is an example of bad and backwards management thinking.

"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."

Oh really? Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home? I'd like to see the statistics behind that. This is a memo from Yahoo HR Head, HR head Jackie Reses. Rest assured, though, HR doesn't have this kind of power. This must come from the top, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

It sounds like a line that was pulled out of thin air in order to justify a policy that is reminiscent of 1977. Sure, back in those days, unless you were an outside sales person, it made sense that you'd place your behind in a cube every day. Mail was the only way to get documents from one person to another. It was absolutely impractical to have people work from home.

Likewise, if you're manufacturing widgets, it generally makes sense for the entire assembly line to be in one room. But, unless I'm mistaken, Yahoo is located in the present and doesn't make widgets.

Ironically, the same memo references Yahoo's multiple locations: "From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing--I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices." I'm shocked that they aren't making everyone relocate to Bangalore. If we want that "energy and  buzz" that comes from working together, shouldn't we work together?

Just how does any company with more than one location succeed without that togetherness?

Huffington post Senior Columnist on Life/Work/Family, Lisa Belkin, wrote:

I had hope for Marissa Mayer. I'd thought that while she was breaking some barriers--becoming the youngest woman CEO ever lead a Fortune 500 company, and certainly the first to do it while pregnant--she might take on the challenge of breaking a number of others. That she'd use her platform and her power to make Yahoo an example of a modern family-friendly workplace...

... Rather than championing a blending of life and work, she is calling for an enforced and antiquated division. She is telling workers--many of whom were hired with the assurance that they could work remotely--that they'd best get their bottoms into their office chairs, or else.

I am a big fan of companies being able to determine their own destiny and their own policies. Marissa Mayer should be able to require every employee to be in the office every single day. She should be able to manage everyone by butt-in-seat time rather than by productivity. But she does so at her own peril.

In my experience, it's the insecure managers who need to know where their employees are every second of the day. Who cannot judge end products and differentiate between a good one and a great one, who instead have to define quality as quantity.

This will be a huge blow to employee morale.

Even if an employee wasn't currently working from home, knowing that that is no longer an option will make them feel a little bit more disgruntled. A little less valued. And a whole heck of a lot less family friendly. Workers can spend an extraordinary amount of time commuting, especially in the California areas where Yahoo has offices. (I know nothing of Bangalore or Beijing, but I suspect commutes are no picnic there either.) Just allowing employees to skip the commute one or two days a week can be a tremendous boon.

Not everyone should work at home. There is some benefit to being able to speak with coworkers on a casual basis. But, it doesn't mean that there isn't some benefit to allowing people to work from home--either a few days a week or all the time.

Besides, there is this fabulous tool available called "the Internet" which allows your employees to share documents in real time, and something else called  "cell phones" which allow your employee to be reached at the same number, whether she is in the office or at home. Perhaps Mayer hasn't heard of either of them yet. Which may explain why this new policy has been issued.

My prediction is that Mayer will experience enough backlash on this that the policy will be quietly set aside before it even fully implemented.

 

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Last updated: Feb 25, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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