Yahoo's Work From Home Ban

Yahoo’s Work-From-Home Ban: Wrong Decision, or Necessary Evil?

Yahoo’s decision to end work-from-home plans rekindles the debate about whether or not telecommuting makes sense.

The decision by new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to ban work-from-home plans set off a predictable reaction in Silicon Valley and throughout the tech world, with many folks saying that Yahoo was out of step with the somewhat sweeping trend toward greater workplace flexibility.

Kara Swisher at All Things D, who broke the story on the original note, had a follow up story that asked a lot of other tech companies what their policies toward working from home were, with what I thought were predictable answers.

Most of the replies from tech leaders were along the lines of “we treat our employees like adults, and expect them to make appropriate decisions.” There was a line in there I’d heard many times before, about how a certain company “doesn’t grade by attendance, but by performance.” I’d heard that at a former big software company I worked for too, from the CEO himself. But I also knew that if I missed the weekly group meeting I’d better have a good reason why.

Here’s what I think: For Yahoo, a company in obvious turmoil, getting all hands back on deck may be the best chance it has to survive. I know nothing about how Yahoo operates but my thinking in this case is that Yahoo needs to figure out who it is as a company, and apparently Mayer believes the only way that can happen is to bring everybody back together to figure it out. Does that make sense? In this case, it might. Was there a better way to word it or implement it than the all-or-nothing direction the email laid out? Most likely.

But it could also be a not-so-subtle way to eliminate internal malcontents; if there were folks who didn’t particularly like Yahoo but didn’t mind doing their job in a comfortable fashion, they might start looking somewhere else instead of complying with the new edict. Maybe when Yahoo gets its mojo back, the company can start allowing people to work from home again. Because for many companies big and small, allowing workplace flexibility is a small price to pay for keeping the best talent on your payroll. At least that’s what most of the other leading tech companies seem to be saying.

I think it’s interesting that a poll in a CNNMoney story about Yahoo’s decision reaction to whether it was the right thing to do or not was running exactly at 50-50 on Monday when I looked at the results, after about 13,000 votes according to the CNN site. I know both of businesses that are run completely remote, with no central offices at all, and I know of companies where people are still required to be at their desks early in the morning, sharply dressed. The idea that “work happens at the office” is a hard culture to break.

I think that working from home is immeasurably better these days, thanks to mobile collaborative applications, devices, and culture changes that make it acceptable to be “remote.” But is it right for every company, at all times? I think it’s a matter of culture and business situation — and right now it’s pretty obvious even from the outside that Yahoo needs a new direction. Maybe ending work-at-home plans is the only way to really get everyone on board. I doubt it, but it will be interesting to see if it works at Yahoo. At the very least, it’s a great topic to discuss here at Mobile Enterprise 360: Has your company ever cut back on telecommuting or work from home plans? If so, did it work? Let us know. And you don’t have to come in to the office to do so.

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