Yahoo's new policy will encourage innovation, some workers say
Requiring workers to go to the office may hurt morale, others argue
Working from home increased by 73% between 2005 and 2011, according to a study
When Stephanie Van Pelt needed to care for her son after surgery, her company gave her the option to work from home.
“They didn’t lose my productivity,” Van Pelt posted on Google+. “They gained an intensely loyal, hard-working employee that was so pleased with not having to take (time) off.”
Van Pelt was weighing in on the recent news that Yahoo is ending its work-from-home policy. The change, announced Monday by Yahoo human resources chief Jackie Reses, is expected to affect hundreds of employees. It is one of many changes CEO Marissa Mayer has made since being hired last July.
But Van Pelt doesn’t work for Yahoo.
She doesn’t work for Google, Twitter, or any high-profile tech company. Instead, Van Pelt represents how the changes at Yahoo have gotten the attention of workers everywhere, regardless of industry.
“This is just ridiculous,” she continued. “Glad I have no desire to work for Yahoo!”
A 2011 study by Telework Research Network found that working remotely increased 73% from 2005 to 2011 in the United States.
Parenting is not at the heart of the issue, despite expectations Mayer would be more flexible after the recent birth of her first child. In the thousands of social media posts made about Mayer’s decision since Monday, people have attempted to classify the policy as a statement about everything from feminism to incompetent management.
But two themes seem to anchor the discussion, and they center on debate about what it takes to create a truly innovate workplace – something Yahoo needs – and the role morale plays in productivity.
Psychologist Eve Ash wrote for SmartCompany.com that, “The combined efforts of a group can provide quantum leaps in innovations.”
Hired to essentially reinvent Yahoo, Mayer is clearly attempting to reignite the “spirit of collaboration.” In an opinion piece for CNN, Raymond Fisman said Mayer has it exactly right: Personal interaction is still the most effective way of conveying a company’s direction. The assertion that new ideas spring up through “chance encounters” is backed by academic research, he says.
David Hirsch, who uses @startupman on Twitter, agrees. As a managing partner of Metamorphic.vc and a father of two, he says for every restart or start-up, real-time collaboration and strategy needs to happen “every 5 minutes.”
“As a parent who occasionally works from home – I feel bad for all those impacted,” posted JD Fairweather. “As a consultant who has seen the challenges of managing remote workers and the complications of rebuilding a company – it’s the right move.”
“Yahoo needs employees who want to live breathe and evangelize Yahoo,” wrote tech blogger Shawn Farner. “The company needs employees in Sunnyvale, walking the halls, eating lunch with colleagues, brainstorming on whiteboards, gathering around monitors – basically, doing the things you’d see a small start-up doing in companies that emphasize collaboration and comradery.”
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, quickly posted his opposition to Mayer’s policy, saying a big part of successfully working with other people depends on, “trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision.”
Donald Trump tweeted that Mayer is right to expect Yahoo employees to come to the workplace. “She is doing a great job!”
Lynn Dang, a former IBM employee posted to Facebook that the policy is silly and short-sighted for three reasons. First, unproductive staff will be unproductive anywhere. Second, Yahoo now risks losing top performers, and third the policy speaks of control and distrust unlikely to boost morale and engagement.
“I do think team building and interaction are useful but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach like this,” Dang posted. “Especially in 2013. Especially for a tech company.”
In an article on HLNTV.com, Sarah Evans, owner of Sevans Strategy, a public relations consultancy, wrote that each year, $1.4 trillion is lost in productivity regardless of where a worker’s desk is physically located.
“Finding a better way to work should be a company’s priority – not telling people where they can do said work,” Evans said.
For Scott Jordan, the policy signaled a much greater issue, which is that Mayer and her team have not planned and deployed technology properly. “There should be no time when an employee is more than a couple of taps away,” he posted to Google+.