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Will Yahoo inspire your boss to ban telecommuting?

Feb 26, 2013
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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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