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Yahoo Phases Out Telecommuting
 

By Aliah D. Wright  2/26/2013
 
 

Reaction to the news that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wants to begin prohibiting employees from telecommuting was swift and unforgiving across social media and news sites.

Disgruntled employees allegedly leaked a confidential corporate memo containing the news, complaining the ban would throw a wrench into their work/life balance.

From Twitter: ‏@StrategicGuy wrote “#Yahoo! kills work flexibility and #telework options for employees; CEO is convinced it is still 1994.”

“Hey Marissa, 1980 just called, they want their work environment back …” quipped @MrsYisWhy.

The memo was leaked to allthingsd.com. Signed by Yahoo HR director Jackie Reses but described by many news sources as spurred by the CEO, the memo stated: “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

The memo also stated: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices.”

Reached by e-mail on Feb. 26, 2013, Lauren Armstrong, a Yahoo spokesperson, told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):  "We don't discuss internal matters. This isn't a broad industry view on working from home--this  is about what is right for Yahoo!, right now."

Move Called ‘Disconcerting’

“It’s no coincidence that 85 of Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ have a telework program,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Mobile Work Exchange, formerly the Telework Exchange. “Flexible work arrangements put the focus on employee productivity and work outcomes instead of attendance—it’s a win-win for both employees and employers. Finally, IT has enabled us to be collaborative—wherever we are.  It’s disconcerting to see a company that encourages mobile IT/communications but discourages mobility.”

At least four of the top 10 companies on the list Auten referenced are technology firms. They are Cisco, where 90 percent of its employees telework; Intel, where 80 percent work remotely; World Wide Technology, where 70 percent telecommute; and Ultimate Software, where 50 percent work remotely.

Mayer has been struggling to raise Yahoo's profile since taking on the company’s top job in mid-2012.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Search Engine Use 2012 study, published by researchers at the Pew Charitable Trust, 83 percent of people surveyed say Google is the search engine they use more often; 6 percent say they use Yahoo.

“When we last asked this question in 2004, the gap between Google and Yahoo! was much narrower, with 47 percent of search users saying Google was their engine of choice and 26 percent citing Yahoo!,” the researchers stated.

However, terminating valued employee benefits, such as telecommuting, could be the change that pushes top talent out the door.

“At a time when many Silicon Valley tech firms are battling each other to attract and retain the best talent, the decision by Yahoo! Inc. to end its telecommuting program may prove to be shortsighted,” according to a news release from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. “There is a collaborative advantage to having all of your employees in the office. However, there is also an advantage in having the best and brightest tech workers on your payroll. The question is whether this move will result in an exodus among the company’s top talent,” said John A. Challenger, the outplacement firm's CEO.

“It is true that remote workers can become unplugged from the social and creative network of an organization if they are rarely in the physical office space,” stated Ken Matos, senior director of Employment Research and Practice for the Families and Work Institute, in a blog post on the Institute’s site. “It can be advantageous to require employees to be present for big creative meetings and important tradition- and memory-making social events to reinforce those bonds.”

Yet, “unilaterally ending all remote work options is extreme, blunt and ultimately substitutes one set of problems for another. If other companies choose to be more flexible and establish more nuanced remote work plans that combine flexibility and creativity, Yahoo! may be on the losing end of a talent war with its competitors,” Matos said.

Many workers view telecommuting as more than a perk. Some studies have shown that employees are more productive when they work remotely. According to the Mobile Work Exchange’s 2013 Digital Dilemma report, federal mobile users gain an average of nine hours a week in estimated productivity, equating to $28 billion in annual productivity gains.

“Face time in the office can be mistaken for productivity when, in reality, at the end of the day, the work speaks for itself,” said Chelsea P. Gladden, director of marketing and PR for FlexJobs.com, a service site that lists telecommuting and other flexible positions. “It's clear Yahoo isn’t finding some of their telecommuters to be productive, but that boils down to … [unproductive employees],” she said.

She cited a recent Stanford study that found that employees who worked from home were, on average, 15 percent more productive and turned in higher quality work.

“In the end, that same individual who slacks, so to speak, while working outside the office is likely to be a slacker in the office,” she said. “In fact, they may get even less done, as most studies show.”

Aliah D. Wright is a manager/online editor for SHRM Online.

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