Yesterday, a memo from Yahoo outlining the shaken tech giant’s new policy regarding telecommuting was released following a report pertaining to its contents. The memo details an edict from CEO Marissa Meyer that working from home is no longer an option at the company, not just on a “full-time” basis, but apparently on a part-time basis as well — quote the above-linked report, “numerous sources told me that the decree extends to any staffers who might have arrangements to work from home just one or two days a week, too.” The policy stats in June, giving those affected plenty of time to find new employment if they so choose, as apparently it will be implemented without exception.
First, in my personal experience, it is always better to be physically present when doing business, even if that is merely your daily job duties. Being at the office means not just being able to ask or answer questions more easily — there’s always lag time with email and God help you if you end up being part of some horrific email chain that could have been avoided by a simple meeting (yes, there are times when meetings are a good thing). Speaking of meetings, everyone being at the office means there’s no need for conference calls.
There are also the benefits of being visible not only to your boss, but his boss(es) and other executives as well. Being a name on an email is one thing, being an actual person to someone is completely different. This visibility can not only help advance your career, but save your job since management might be less likely to lay you off. Its these reasons why I wouldn’t want to work from home on a full-time basis. However, you don’t need to be in the office every day to get all of the political benefits and the “instant access” issue can be remedied with tools like an instant messenger program (you’re screwed on the conference call front), so having an arrangement that lets you work one, two, or even three days from home is unlikely to be a detriment – and this is why Yahoo’s new policy is counter-productive.
Aside from the obvious reasons of decreased morale and increased turnover amongst affected employees, there are a few more that make this policy counter-productive, specifically because of one of its core attributes: rigidity. At a tech company, no less! While there’s a clear tangible benefit to forcing full-time telecommuters to come into the office, there’s no reason to make them do it every day of the week and there’s certainly no reason that I see to make part-time telecommuters into full-time office workers. After all, if the arrangement has been working (and presumably, it has been, otherwise these employees would have been let go…at least in theory) up until now, there’s little reason to believe performance will improve by taking a perk away. From everyone. Even those that are high-performers.
Yahoo isn’t exactly in a position where it can afford big mis-steps that lower morale, anger employees, and promote turnover. This new rigid policy does all three and I can see much back-pedaling in the near future. Even if the theory that this is a “stealth layoff” is true, it’s still a bad idea as it will keep new talent from joining and may lead those that are content at their job and are unaffected to look for employment elsewhere because they take it as a bad sign for their own prospects.