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Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has put the kibosh on working from home, raising plenty of eyebrows as the rest of the tech world — and indeed the wider business world — continues to shift toward greater workplace flexibility. Yahoo HeadquartersIn a memo obtained by AllThingsDigital, the company's HR chief, Jackie Reses, said that "to become the absolute best place to work ... we need to be working side-by-side." Reses continued:
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. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Reportedly, Mayer has been miffed by the way parking lots at the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters have been slow to fill in the morning and quick to empty at 5 p.m. The edict applies to both those who work from home one or two days a week, as well as people who telecommute full time.

The Grumbling Begins

Yahoo workers, some of whom say working from home was part of their employment agreement, aren't happy. In the Twittersphere, working parents seem aghast that Mayer, a new mother herself, would ax arrangements so central to the juggling act they perform between work and family demands. The move runs counter to worldwide trends, according to management consultant Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network. Employees of all age groups want "the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how they work,” she says.
[Companies have] learned that when they ignore the where, when and how work is done and focus on results, their people are more productive, more creative and more successful. That all translates into greater loyalty, engagement and productivity.
On the other hand, Business Insider characterized the move as one that previous CEOs knew they needed to make, but didn’t. An unnamed source told the website that Mayer was making the tough decisions necessary to combat the organization’s bloat. If some people quit? That’s fewer to lay off, Business Insider points out.

Good Idea, Bad Approach

Where Yahoo seems to have failed is in execution, Lister says. “If they have no idea what their remote workers are doing, they're obviously not managing by results. Perhaps it's a function of their rapid growth. Perhaps they failed to teach their managers how to manage," she argues. "The execution failed, not the concept.” And was this really a strategic move? Recruiter Steven Levy thinks it was more of an "executive temper tantrum" than an informed decision. "The mechanics of a highly effective telecommuting policy are very complicated and require 'self-actualized' workers and managers," says Levy, the managing director of analytics and technology search and consulting firm BlueWaterLabs. "Technology tools are by no means a sufficient backdrop to a great program."
Organizationally, not all managers are capable of managing telecommuters, not all teams are comprised of the right associates who can work collaboratively, and not all projects and functions warrant a telecommuting option. In other words, in assessing the program I’d be very surprised if Mayer doesn’t first look at all these factors and make changes to Yahoo’s management and talent ranks. It’s my understanding that she is already taking a fine tooth comb to Yahoo’s recruiting cultural-fit model. I wish more CEOs took as much interest in recruiting as Mayer.

A Recruiting Disadvantage

Kate Lister recounts how the HR head of MySQL, before it was purchased by Sun and then Oracle, once told her the company could never have achieved its success without being able to hire the best talent globally. It had employees on every continent except Antarctica — all working remotely. She believes Mayer’s move will hurt Yahoo's recruiting and retention efforts. In a recent blog post she pointed out that the contemporary workforce isn't from the age of Mad Men. Today’s workers, she said:
  • Want to be trusted.
  • Want to do their best and feel like they’re a part of greater whole.
  • Want to be treated like adults.
  • Will go somewhere else or venture out on their own if they can't get what they want.
Despite the popularity of remote work, John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says there is some wisdom behind the memo’s sentiment. “Yahoo is definitely in a fourth-and-long situation, so it needs to try new tactics," he said in a statement. "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.” Recently, Challenger's company called for more companies to support telecommuting. However, that was based on a report from Texas A&M that found that increased traffic congestion forced the nation’s workers to build extra time into their daily commutes, to the tune of $121 billion in wasted time and fuel during 2011.