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Yahoo's work-at-home policy is the right decision

Rich Hein | March 7, 2013
Yahoo and CEO Marissa Mayer have taken a beating in the media with its recent ban on telecommuting, but creating a more collaborative startup mentality within the struggling tech giant is the right move.

These well-publicized changes seem to be more of a push to solve some undetermined internal problems within Yahoo. For example, Forbes quotes a Yahoo insider as saying, "There were all these employees and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo." Other observers, such as Forrester's Gownder, have reported that some Yahoo employees who worked from home were starting their own businesses while being paid by Yahoo.

Why Yahoo Did It

What the real motivation is behind Mayer's dictum is difficult to know with any certainty. However, Forrester's Gownder offers some thoughts on why a company would choose to make a move like Yahoo has.

  • Worker malfeasance: When employees are remote, poorly managed and not on-task, a company might choose to bring some (or all) workers into offices.
  • Promoting innovation: -- Unlike achieving efficiency or productivity, innovation often requires teams of people to work together (this often applies to engineering or other technical functions, graphic design, architecture, and similar areas).
  • Vertical dependencies: Certain verticals such as healthcare--might require classes of workers to have known destinations (e.g., offices or hospitals) for compliance and security reasons.

Hey, It Works at Google

This telecommuting ban may also be an effort to draw on Mayer's background at Google to create a more collaborative and innovative environment. "Mayer comes from Google culture. "Creative workers, engineers and research & development people working on technical projects often times need to do so in a large group effort. My guess is Mayer has now focused on very specific areas where she wants to see innovation at Yahoo and she's trying to deploy resources within that context to drive innovation. Innovation is different than productivity," says Gownder.

Yahoo is a struggling tech giant that needs to right the ship. Perhaps getting everyone under one roof with more of a startup mentality could be part of the answer. After all, companies like Google, AOL and others provide perks like free dining, on-site daycare and in-house gyms in an effort to keep people in the office because they believe that these casual interactions yield some great collaborative situations.

"Telecommuting was a perfect solution to a set of problems that existed at one time. But times have changed. My personal observation is that telecommuting is now working against many employers. Not all, but many employers," says Foote.

Whether it's the right move for Yahoo, of course, is yet to be seen. Could it have been handled better? Probably. As a whole, the industry appears to be moving towards more work-at-home situations not less, according to the experts.

"Companies have to figure out, 'how do we manage this?' The ones that are able to manage effectively and have a productive, remote and distributed workforce are going to have an advantage, specifically in markets where getting talent is difficult," says Gownder.


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