Yahoo Goes Forward to the Past


By Samuel Greengard

These days, it's almost shocking when the news isn't shocking. But last week Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer took the shock 'o' meter to a new level. She issued a memo banning telecommuting beginning in June.

"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side by side," she wrote. "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."

What's next? Banning computers in favor of pen and paper? Blocking Twitter and Facebook?

Okay, I get the concept that people need sometimes need to work together face to face to innovate and produce outstanding results. If anything, there's too much of a tendency these days to believe that collaboration technology can replace face-to-face interactions. In reality, current solutions complement physical meetings or make it possible to interact when it otherwise wouldn't be possible.

Mayer may be a supermom who can go back to work only two weeks after delivering a baby, and she may have the clout and resources to create a fully furnished nursery in a room adjoining her office. But, alas, this isn't the norm, and it's certainly not scalable at Yahoo! or anywhere else.

More importantly, employees with children and some semblance of a life are likely to find this edict highly unpalatable—especially since Yahoo! and many other companies now demand 50, 60 or even 70-hour workweeks. Already, other tech firms are reporting that they're receiving résumés from disgruntled Yahoo! employees, and some of these companies are actively recruiting talent from Yahoo!

If Mayer believes that too many workers aren't as productive as they should be, how does corralling them in the office help? Heck, you can squander time wherever you are, whether inside or outside an office.

Memo to Ms. Mayer: There are sophisticated human resources performance management systems that can measure whatever a CEO wants to measure and track people's performance across the enterprise. Perhaps you should consider such a system?

In reality, telecommuting programs can save companies 10 to 15 percent in real estate overhead. They allow employees to have some degree of flexibility in today's OCD business world. And they can boost productivity by 10 percent or more while reducing turnover. These are pretty remarkable numbers and you can bet that telecommuting will continue to grow.

Of course, not every employee in every situation is suitable for an out-of-the-office experience. What's more, it's critical to establish sound policies and procedures for virtual workers. But flat out banning everyone, all the time is nothing less than a yahoo move.