Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and the management of Best Buy have both recently ended work at home arrangements and been accused of being out of touch.
Mayer made headlines last June when she was hired to take over at Yahoo, not only for her credentials but also because she was six months pregnant and said she would take no maternity leave. She returned to her desk two weeks after giving birth. She has built a nursery next to her office, an option not necessarily open to everyone.
Marissa Mayer admitted that this was a drastic proposal, and she was willing to revisit it. It was a bold action, but her company is in a bit of a crisis.Of course only time will tell whether Yahoo!’s new “get yourself into the office” order will generate the stronger performance Mayer is after
The memo says working from the office facilitates more brainstorming. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” it says.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together.” She said the change in policy was necessary to foster more collaboration among employees and restore Yahoo’s competitiveness. “Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”
She’s right. The reality is that the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our collaboration with those around us, goes up in direct proportion to the quality of our conversations.
But this is a very radical proposal given how far we have come in making workplaces more flexible.
It is disappointing to see a successful female COO not supporting her employees with flexible working. No one knows whether Marissa will support someone who wants to bring a baby to the office as she does. But the message she is sending is that flexibility is no longer valued and, instead, working on-site and face time are more important
Many varying views have emanated from the global debate on the merits of work-from-home policies that have followed these announcements. Some think the change was required to restore Yahoo’s competitive edge: Others argue that workplace flexibility, with the option of working remotely, actually enhances productivity. The University of Iowa carried out a study in 2012 found that telecommuters usually work five to seven hours more a week than those who work in offices.
Yahoo and now Best Buy are bucking the corporate trend toward more workplace flexibility. A recent report from the Census Bureau found that 13 million people, or 9.4 percent of U.S. employees, worked at home at least one day per week in 2010, compared with 9.2 million people, or 7 percent of workers, in 1997.
Commentators believe that while there may be benefits in terms of fostering innovation, Yahoo might face some negative effects on retention, hiring, and morale by insisting all employees work on site. The most negative effects would be in the early stages of people’s careers, when they are having families. Potential employees might see Yahoo as a less desirable employer. Younger people in particular are much more likely to want an integrated life, where being at the workplace doesn’t dominate their existence, and so the option to work at home is valued by them.
The assumption of this new policy is that innovation happens most in unplanned meetings at work, and if people are working at home this doesn’t happen. Perhaps another option would be to look at more ways to encourage on-site interactions such as special business events and conferences to encourage more innovation. Yahoo is a technology firm, and you would assume they leverage technology, but to what extent were their remote employees using webinars and Skype and other forms of online technology?
Or Yahoo could have come up with a compromise policy that would require everyone to be on site on core days each week. For example everyone in the office on Tuesday and Thursday.
Not everyone has the resources to have full-time care at home, or at the office, some people want to spend more time at home when their children are young, or if they are caring for elderly parents.