Will Yahoo inspire your boss to ban telecommuting?

Companies must weigh several factors before reversing the trend toward letting some employees work from home.

Starting in June, Yahoo employees who work from home will have to start showing up at the office instead. 

The policy change, announced late last week, has garnered strong reactions online and through social media. An Etsy employee even tweeted that he’d welcome resumes from Yahoo employees who were looking to keep working from home -- and has received 20 inquiries thus far, a mix of candidates within Yahoo and outside the company.

It’s clear that many people and companies will watch Yahoo to see the results their new policy, as there are well-defined pros and cons to having employees work from home.

On the one hand, stay-at-home employees enjoy a commute that consists of walking from their bedrooms to their desks. Plus, they can focus on projects without workplace distractions. However, they lack the collaborative environment of being in an office surrounded by their colleagues.

Productivity versus collaboration -- this is trade-off many employers face when considering whether to let their employees work remotely.

“If it’s productivity that’s most important, then telecommuting seems to be a good idea,” says John Challenger, the CEO of the outplacement firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas, Inc. “But as a company, if you’re looking for innovation, if you’re looking to create a team, then keeping [employees] together is what works.”

The possibility for collaboration is one reason Hunter Walk, a former Googler, supports Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision. Until recently, he was a director of product management for YouTube.

“A lot of new idea generation comes from sometimes people in the morning getting in a room, talking about an idea,” says Walk. “Then the engineers and designers going off and building something, and then coming back in a room at talk about a prototype."

Walk says that collaboration could happen remotely, but it requires companies to create procedures and infrastructure for it to work well.

For a company that has struggled in recent years, as Yahoo has, the policy change might be just what's needed to shake up corporate culture, especially if employees were abusing the ability to work from home.

It's possible Mayer may have felt she needed to do something drastic to change that culture, says Matt Marx, a professor of entrepreneurship at MIT. "Because it's very hard to change a culture once it becomes acceptable or even commonplace for people to act in certain ways.”

Perhaps if or when the company regains some of its former glory, then people can start working from home again.

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Yahoo is being defensive and taking a backwards step. I understand the motivation but afraid result will be to demoralize best and brightest. Innovation has little to do with face-to-face, onsite meetings and more with finding and motivating the right team. The right team can work anywhere. I manage multiple IT projects for a Fortune 1000 company with national plants and international development partners. I use virtual project meetings via a conference call to monitor and control these projects. Having the choice to work from home especially during bad weather adds hours to my day. Face-to-face meetings have purpose at project start but are often less productive and waste time and money. See my recent article in the Practical PM Journal, "Virtual Project Status Meetings". http://practicalpmjournal.com/2013/02/virtual-project-status-meetings/

"Will Yahoo inspire my boss to ban telecommuting?"
My boss says "what is telecommuting?"

I work at a company where I didn't meet my boss in meatspace until 7 months in. We get our team together about every 6 months and have a great time, then we all go home to different parts of the world and work together.

Teams have videoconferences almost every day, we stay in touch via IRC for day to day minutiae. I know more about what's going on in other teams than any other job I've had because I can sit in other teams' channels and follow along. In our case, the remote work fosters creativity because we know if we can make things work for us, they'll work for a more boring environment.

Sure, I've run off and taken a long lunch, done laundry, or slept in late. I've also seen coworkers say, "It's too pretty outside, back in 30, relocating to the beach." At the end of the day, if goals aren't being met then people need to be held accountable, wherever they are. If you can't spot that from someone's output and contributions, I don't know what managers expect to figure out in person.

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