Yahoo employees ended their week with a confusing note from HR: working from home is no longer an option. The memo, which was quickly leaked and spread across the Internet, gave current employees until June to either start commuting to the physical office, or find a different job. Some lauded the memo as a wise financial choice, others criticized the move as a step back to the dark ages, everyone was in shock.
The memo focuses on the idea that it’s the little in-office things that help with ideation and teamwork.
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
In short, Internet technology can’t replace face-to-face communication.
Most people wouldn’t bat an eye at a company preferring in-person communication over emails or IMs, except that Yahoo isn’t most companies. It’s a tech giant that specifically creates online resource. Therein lies the outrage.
This change will affect hundreds of Yahoo employees, who either need to move to California or change their schedules to work around in-office work weeks. The harshest critics have accused CEO Marissa Mayer of hiding the true intentions behind the memo: lay-offs without actual lay-offs. Yahoo wouldn’t have to make cuts or fire employees if they willingly left their jobs because they didn’t want to come into the office.
If that is true, then Mayer has opened up a whole can of worms about whether telecommuting increases or decreases employee productivity. On the pro side, companies can harvest talent all across the country. If the best fit for the job doesn’t want to move to Boise, he or she can telecommute from Key West. Multiple studies have shown that working from home increases happiness because employees aren’t subjected to traffic, they’re more comfortable in their homes and are able to have flexible hours.
Opponents of working from home argue that just because employees are happier in their pajamas, they’re not necessarily more productive. Telecommuting requires self-discipline, motivation and concentration. There are infinitely more distractions and not as much social pressure to focus on work. Plus, it’s easier for employees in large corporations to abuse the system and “hide out” at home.
If Mayer is hoping to purge the payroll of unproductive employees to cut spending, then this move makes sense. They might lose some good people but it’s worth it to toss the bad apples. Plus, the idea that the majority of ideas pop up from water cooler talk isn’t necessarily true of many offices. As Caleb Garling summed it up, you can work five feet from someone and still interact like telecommuters:
“You could spend an entire day at your desk, never open your mouth and communicate with everyone in the company. I’ve talked with friends and associates from tiny startups to Google and they largely say the same.”
The average business looks to modern corporations like Google or Apple to be trendsetters for the modern office. Yoga balls, standing desks and zen rooms are just a few ways companies are modernizing to attract top talent and make employee productivity flourish. If Yahoo succeeds or fails because of this decision, other corporations will take note. But either way, a Silicon Valley tech company shouldn’t claim that physical communication is better than talking online. It’s just bad messaging.
Do you think this is a step in the right direction for Yahoo? More importantly, where do you see the future of telecommuting?