Should your employees be allowed to work from home or only in the office?
This week Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer forbade company employees from so-called “remote” working. Jackie Reses, Yahoo! VP of people and development, emailed staff a memo directing them to begin working in company offices by June. Yahoo’s thinking is that face-to-face working engenders collaboration and betters “speed and quality,” according to Reses. This directive seems to fly in the face of 21st century management thinking. Consider the comment of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group: “This seems a backward step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.” Yahoo! spokesperson Sara Gorman noted that “this isn’t a broad industry view on working from home – this is what is right for Yahoo!, right now.”
The Case for Remote Working
Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultants Culture Rx, states that Yahoo! “has taken a giant leap backward. Instead of keeping great talent, (Yahoo! will find itself) with a workplace full of people who are good at showing up and putting in time.” The latitude to work outside the office is considered a perk by many Yahoo! competitors, thereby limiting the company’s allure to top shelf talent, according to Thompson.
Brad Harrington of Boston College’s Center for Work & Family says, “People who work from home tend to have less stress and are more productive, partly because they don’t invest time and money in commuting.” According to a Stanford University research study in 2011, people who worked from home were 13% more productive than those who worked in an office.
Microsoft corporate VP Ron Markezich claims “Businesses around the world are seeing telework as a necessity.” Even the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, hardly considered a leader in workplace culture evolution, claims that almost 2/3 of its employees telework.
Professor Jennifer Glass of the University of Texas at Austin points out that for employees in their 30s and 40s, teleworking augments the 40 hours of work they have already performed in the office. Saying she was “flabbergasted” by Yahoo!’s decision, Glass added, “This seems to be trying to bring Yahoo! in line with corporate America, not high-tech industries. The idea that this is going to promote more innovation seems bizarre.”
The Case for Working from the Office
Yahoo!’s memo stated, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” Yahoo!’s CFO Patrick Pinchette said, “There is something magical about spending the time together (and) noodling over ideas.”
New York University’s Aninday Ghose, associate professor of management services at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, points out the collaboration between employees at work can’t be replicated at home. “The conversations we have in the corridor – that boosts morale and productivity,” she said.
A 2012 Citrix survey can be cited in support of Yahoo!’s recent workplace decision. According to the survey, 43% of workers acknowledge watching TV or a movie while teleworking; 35% have done housework; and 28% have cooked dinner.
Furthermore, corporate culture resistance still places barriers in front of those of telework. Many remote workers may find themselves second-class employees compared to those who work at the office. The 20112 Citrix survey found that half of the workers claimed their superiors disapproved of teleworking and only 35% say their bosses “tolerate” the practice. “Not being seen in the office” may work against an employee’s opportunities for promotion, pay raises and higher performance evaluations.
CEO Mayer’s move may be an attempt to rebuild Yahoo!’s fortunes. She has the support – for now – of analysts and investors heartened by the company’s first annual sales increase since 2008. “She needs to rebuild the culture of this company and she needs to drive revenue growth,” Colin Gillis, BGC Partners analyst, said. He added that her changes will continue to receive support as long as she delivers results.
Matt Mullenweg, leader of WordPress parent Automattic, points out that “The center of gravity for an organization should be as close to what they make as possible. If you make cars, you need people in the factory. If you breed horses, be in the stable. If you make the Internet, live on the Internet and use all the freedom and power it gives you.”
Professor Ghose says that Yahoo! must find equilibrium between workplace flexibility and establishing a performance standard for its workers. “Allowing an employee to work from home once a week is likely to boost morale,” he claims. “If they’re honest, there’s no reason it should affect your productivity.”
Allen Denbigh, co-author of ‘The Teleworking Handbook’ does not endorse working exclusively from home, citing the benefits of collaborating with office co-workers and the dangers of toiling long hours at home to keep pace. But Denbigh says it is “equally ridiculous” to feel obligated to show up at the office every day. Some of both are his prescription for optimal work performance.
Perhaps the most common sense observation comes from Kathleen Christiansen of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “If someone has a report that’s due, and they have people dropping by, interrupting them, that can be counter-productive,” she said.