Skip to main content

Allow Yahoo workers to work at home

By Ellen Ernst Kossek, Special to CNN
updated 10:43 AM EST, Thu February 28, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told employees that they must work in the office or quit
  • Ellen Ernst Kossek: Mandating face time will not automatically lead to creativity, productivity
  • She says Yahoo happens to be a case of telework gone horribly wrong
  • Kossek: If a company implements telework in the right way, everyone benefits

Editor's note: Ellen Ernst Kossek is co- author of "CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age," and she is the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Management at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management.

(CNN) -- Marissa Mayer's announcement that Yahoo employees who work remotely must come in the office or quit has raised howls of criticism.

Her supporters defend her decision by pointing out that many Yahoo workers who work at home never came in and hid from management, and that her decree is a wake-up call to get focused on teamwork and innovation so that the company can get up to speed.

Mayer's reasoning makes some sense. But mandating face time will not automatically lead to creativity and collaboration. The key is establishing a culture of innovation and aligning talent and performance. Telework should not have to axed in the process.

A work-at-home mom defends Yahoo's Mayer

Ellen Ernst Kossek
Ellen Ernst Kossek

Yahoo happens to be a case of an out-of-control, work-at-home company. It's telework gone horribly wrong. Telework, in itself, does not hurt productivity. But telework, when implemented poorly, can be a problem. Telework is just one out of many management tools designed to make a company more attractive for hardworking employees.

Working from home doesn't necessarily hurt productivity. If management takes the time to implement it effectively and link it to accountability, then telework benefits both the company and employees. It can build trust and promote healthy work-life balance among employees. However, management must have the courage to get rid of deadwood and fire telework abusers.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Employees commit to an organization because they buy into company goals and feel valued, not because they are ordered to sit at their desks. Yahoo may have long-term trust and morale issues if it continues this policy. Abolishing telework is like canceling the prom because some immature people spiked the punch bowl. It is not going to get Yahoo out of its doldrums. It may result in exodus, as talents leave for employers who do not see work-life flexibility at war with job performance.

Opinion: CEO is right: Yahoo workers must show up

Mayer's calling all remote workers into the office raises some unspoken prevailing cultural assumptions. Workers who have control over where, when and how they work are often perceived as less productive. Giving workers flexibility to integrate personal life with work is viewed as antithetical to boosting performance.

Yahoo ends telecommuting
Controversy grows over Yahoo ban

Yet studies have shown that all workers value control over personal and work time. This is not just a mom's child care issue or a dad's elderly care issue. It is a people issue. From millennials to Gen Xers to boomers, men to women, returning veterans to disabled employees -- having flextime and telework can make a huge difference in people's lives as they juggle work and life.

Adapting to new ways of working is a competitive advantage in today's working environment. Organizations should realize that not everyone works best in the same way. Some people can handle text messages from work, family, news and Facebook 24/7. Others work better at 5 a.m. or late at night. And then there are people who desperately need time to focus and detach from work to get creative.

Policy riles workers everywhere

Productivity does not equal face time. What remote workers should do is set clear performance goals and regular times for meetings and calls with core teams. Telework can build loyalty since employees can better manage their family life -- something that everyone can appreciate. And sometimes, they end up working more hours that they don't clock in.

So when should a company draw a line on working remotely or in the office? When management is no longer sure who works for them or how to coordinate a team, and employees always place their own interests over the company.

Yahoo needs to ask employees how to improve productivity and creativity without having to sacrifice telework. Given that it's harder than ever nowadays to separate the boundary between work from life, does Yahoo really think that requiring that employees to work in the office is the right solution? Let's hope Mayer's decision is temporary.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ellen Ernst Kossek.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT