Yahoo Says ‘No’ to Telecommuting: What’s the Fallout?

You may have heard that Yahoo Inc.’s president and CEO Marissa Mayer has called for the company’s entire workforce to be physically present in an office space instead of working from home. That’s a pretty bold decision, especially in an era where organizations are commended publicly for making the move toward telecommuting and flextime and expect such decisions to help attract and retain the best talent.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by the announcement. First, Mayer is a Google alum, and during her first few weeks on the job, reports surfaced that Yahoo would be making some changes that mirrored a Google-like culture, starting with free food and revamped workspaces.  I know a number of Googlers, and am therefore familiar with their informal flextime/telecommuting policies and willingness to accommodate staff needs on this front. Yahoo’s decision simply doesn’t jibe with the vision I thought it was trying to put out there.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the assumption that Mayer, who also happens to be a new mom, would have been even more lenient toward working from home.

Regardless, the obvious questions are: Why? And why now? According to a Wall Street Journal blog, Yahoo has cited suffering teamwork and lagging speed and quality of work as the primary culprits. There was also mention of physical encounters among colleagues being responsible for idea generation – something its employees are apparently missing out on.

If I could interject here for a minute, I wholeheartedly agree with the aforementioned reason. Innovation and idea generation do tend to get roused, like a shot of espresso, when in the presence of others. That’s why my own team has weekly meetings where ideas get introduced, kicked around and are picked up or tossed. That’s why the cubicles in our office are in such close proximity to our colleagues – because I can swivel my chair and ask my co-workers for suggestions or feedback and we can go back and forth discussing a work-pertinent topic until I feel like I’ve reached a resolution. Say what you want about IMing or emailing or even Skype-ing — all three of which I’m a huge fan — but I can attest it just isn’t the same as having face-to-face interaction with your peers.

Now, where my opinion diverges on the topic is that the face-to-face interaction — i.e. physical presence in a workplace — needs to happen all day, every day. Why not create a schedule where all employees are required to be physically present for brainstorming sessions, meetings, team-oriented activities, etc., but still offer them some time, if they choose, to work from the comfort of their home, Starbucks or Barnes & Noble as long as they are kept accountable to their goals and are turning in high-quality work on time?

I realize this isn’t a clear-cut, black-or-white type of issue, and each company will end up making a decision it feels is right for its situation. Now, there are also reports lauding Mayer’s decision – based on comments from former employees alleging that many of Yahoo’s remote workers did nothing but the bare minimum and got a fat paycheck even after slacking off. It’s hard to make a clear call when you don’t have all the facts. But I want to hear what you think: Were you surprised, too? Do you think it’s the right decision? And, perhaps more importantly, do you think other large corporations will follow suit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.