How Productive Is Working from Home?

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Recently it was announced that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, planned to ban all employees from working from home, starting this June. This news is surprising, given that Silicon Valley has had such high adoption of virtual and telecommute teams, including at Yahoo!

While we’ve heard plenty of statistics stating that not only is telecommuting cost-effective for companies, it’s also boosting productivity levels. Mayer doesn’t seem to think so. And while Yahoo! has had plenty of negative press in the last few years, many don’t feel that its problems stem from whether or not all employees are physically on Yahoo! grounds for work.

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, thinks Mayer’s stance might reveal the other shortfalls of the company even faster:

“Management, collaboration, and communication problems will often show up as a problem faster with telecommuters than it will in the office, where people can hide behind “face time” as “evidence” of their commitment and presence, Fell says, “Unfortunately, Marissa Mayer seems to be endorsing that type of ‘head in the sand’ approach, and turning her back on all the many advancements that technology has to offer in terms of remote work — which is strange, because they’re a technology company.”

Will Employees Run Away?

Given that Yahoo! was once among the forerunners of flexibility in working from home, this change may turn off many who need — or simply want — to work from home. Parents who work from home to have more flexible schedules to pick up their children, for example, might have a hard time finding childcare for the new situation. And with so many other top companies in the Valley, many may simply choose to go elsewhere to keep the perk of working from home.

What About Those Benefits?

In Mayer’s private memo that was leaked, she rallies around the benefits of being in the same work environment:

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Sutton Fell says, “Pointing the finger at working from home as being the culprit to the inefficiencies and lack of cohesiveness at Yahoo! is missing a big opportunity, and unfortunately doing it in a way that not only hurts the people who were promised this work arrangement, but it hurts the morale of the whole company. “

Mayer seems to be ignoring the benefits others tout in favor of working from home, or at least focusing on the benefits the company could gain, in her mind, by working in the office.

But maybe she’s right. Maybe we’ve put too much focus on the idea of working from home and not enough attention on how much better companies would be if they were having those impromptu meetings and brainstorming on new ideas face to face. Maybe we need a back-to-basics approach, and Mayer is the leader of this movement. Or maybe she’s just trying to cut costs easily by making remote employees quit with a new policy. At any rate, we’ll see what happens at Yahoo!, and we’ll see if other companies follow suit.

Image credit: Daniel Rashid

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