Can it be? One of the most cutting-edge companies in the world has decided to squash one of today’s most cutting-edge workplace perks? Yahoo’s recent announcement has the HR world abuzz with a debate over telecommuting.
You’ve likely heard that a leaked internal Yahoo memo outlined plans to require all of the struggling Internet pioneer’s workers to show up every day. No more working from home, starting in June.
But don’t we keep hearing that telecommuting is one of the most popular perks today’s companies can offer? That it boosts retention, morale and engagement?
The controversial memo, which was sent last Friday, was written by Yahoo HR exec Jackie Reses (speaking, we assume, for CEO Marissa Mayer). It was leaked to the website All Things D and read in part:
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”
A working mother backlash?
News of Yahoo’s new policy sparked a torrent of debate. Jennifer Owens, writing on the Working Mother website, wrote, “Working moms … were excited last summer when Yahoo! named Marissa Mayer CEO, even as her maternity leave loomed just a few months away.
“… We all knew she had a troubled company to turn around — maybe her plan was to lead by example with a flexible work schedule?
“Alas, no. Instead her plan as announced last week is to lead her workforce back to the last century by banning work-from-home policies across the company.”
Richard Branson wrote on his Virgin Group blog, “We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they(‘re) at their desk or in their kitchen.”
Yahoo’s decision, Branson said, ”seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.
“If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality.”
On the other hand …
Ben Weber, CEO of Sociometric Solutions and the author of the forthcoming book, People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work, agreed with the Yahoo edict.
“There’s a big difference between telecommuting occasionally and working from home every day of the year,” he said. “Occasional telecommuting allows people to deal with one-time events and promotes a less stressful work environment.
“Remote work, however, means that you lack a social connection to your colleagues. In general, this relates to lower job satisfaction for the entire company, higher turnover, and lower productivity.
“There are many long term benefits of co-location,” Weber added. ”Bumping into people in the hallway can create new connections that lead to new ideas. By getting to know your colleagues better, you can also find better ways to communicate with them and support them if they have personal problems.”
Clinical psychologist Aubrey Daniels, who specializes in workplace dynamics, takes a longer view:
“Many companies today decide on whether or not someone works from home based on the job itself: Can it be done remotely? This is a fundamental management error,” he wrote in an email message to HRMorning.com.
“The decision should instead be, first and foremost, has this person earned the privilege of working at home? If the person is a poor performer at work, they will most certainly be a poor performer at home. Secondly, does the employee want to work from home? Believe it or not, some people don’t want to.
“Regardless of the job, some people perform better at work than they do at home. Then there are those who say they have trouble concentrating in an office — co-workers, noises and activities distract them. They convince management that they would perform better in a quieter setting. But don’t be fooled by those employees. Their performance in the office is a predictor of performance at home.”
What’s the best practice here? “Set up criteria for people who want to work from home and give them the opportunity to earn it,” Daniels wrote. “If specific criteria were set up and available to all, employees who exhibited high performance over an extended period of time would be the best candidates for such a perk.
“While it may be difficult for some jobs to be done at home, an increasing number are possible with the increased use of Skype and other inventions that allow personal interactions necessary in certain jobs.”
Are sweatpants the answer?
On the lighter side, brand new research from SurveyMonkey may have come up with a perk that’s sure to make telecommuters scurry back to their cubicles: Just let ‘em wear sweatpants.
It’s true. In the survey, 29% of the 500 participants responded “working in my sweats or other comfortable clothes” when asked what they miss the most about home when working from the office.
Employees also miss the lack of interruptions (26%), ability to work/life multi-task (25%) and hanging out with their dog (8%).
More than one in five respondents (21%) said they might quit if not allowed to telecommute; 6% said they definitely would.
Some other data from the survey:
- If the ability to work from home was taken away, 46% would like their job less
- 23% think work from home flexibility is the most valuable benefit/perk their job provides, and
- More than half said it’s very or extremely important to have work from home option.