Will Yahoo regret swimming against the work-from-home tide?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Will Yahoo regret swimming against the work-from-home tide?

As HR pros know, the trend in workplace flexibility is toward more, notably more fulltime or part-time work-from-home arrangements. But now Yahoo, part of the high-tech community that led the way in flexibility, is taking a big step in the opposite direction.

Yahoo’s HR chief recently sent an all-staff memo claiming “speed and quality are often sacrificed” because of working from home, and ordering all teleworkers to report daily to a Yahoo office starting in June.

The memo created quite a dust-up in the blogosphere when it was first reported a couple of weeks ago — thanks no doubt to steamed Yahoo employees who leaked it.

Effect on productivity?
But now that the dust has died down, what of Yahoo’s argument about productivity?

Well, first of all, the memo provided no support for the idea that working from home harms the quality of product and/or the speed with which employees deliver it.

Indeed, as the New York Times’s Parenting columnist pointed out, recent research exists to the contrary:

  • employees don’t take advantage of working from home by loafing and/or “stealing” time, and
  • at least some categories of employee are more efficient when doing so.

It’s easy to see why the latter point might be true: At the office, people often get distracted by untimely chat, co-workers’ noise, etc.

A gamble
At least one report about the Yahoo move said that it was, in part, calculated to drive away those people who adamantly don’t want to come to the office. Yahoo needs to cut costs, and this is a way of making layoffs without using the word.

Still, there’s a large element of gamble in the Yahoo move:

  • Gamble #1 — Productivity gains from having all employees cheek-to-jowl in the office every day will be worth it. (What’s the productivity effect of the horrendous daily commute that former teleworkers will now have to undertake if they’re driving to Yahoo’s HQ in Sunnyvale, CA — in the heart of notoriously traffic-congested Silicon Valley?)
  • Gamble #2 — The company won’t be hurt too much by departures of good people who feel betrayed and are able to find new employers who are more accommodating.
  • Will the company win its gambles, or regret them? Stay tuned.

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