Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, made headlines recently for her views on telecommuting (as well as motherhood). On February 22, Yahoo sent a memo to their employees asking that all employees with work-from-home arrangements work in the Yahoo offices starting in June 2013. Ms. Mayer’s announcement adds restrictions to the Yahoo telecommuting policy, with the idea that bringing work back to the office will lead to greater productivity and focus on interactions that are only possible in offices. Not only is this theory flawed and antiquated, it is also unsustainable-both in the modern workplace and in our society. From Ms. Mayer’s memo:
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. 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…Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”
Some of the best decisions come from “hallway and cafeteria discussions”? Perhaps I’ve underestimated the conversation quality in the Yahoo offices; but if companies were hinging on the ideas emanating from the hallways and cafeterias I’ve been around, they would all be filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
Jennifer Glass, in her NY Times article “It’s About the Work, Not the Office,” states that “a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation. Two outdated ideas seem to underlie the Yahoo decision: first, that tech companies can still operate like the small groups of 20-something engineers that founded them; and second, the most old-fashioned of all, that companies get the most out of their employees by limiting their autonomy.”
Productivity aside, telecommuting offers invaluable benefits for the environment, such as reducing traffic and pollution attributed to commuting. TelCoa notes that if the 32 million people who are able to work from home did so at least one day a week, 74 million gallons of gas could be saved. And, with the plethora of modern tools that make connecting with co-workers and clients fast and reliable (such as GoToMeeting, Skype, etc.), you’re never completely removed from the office. Just as gender roles have vastly changed since the Mad Men era, the traditional concept of an “office” too has changed. Ms. Mayer had the chance to enter into her role as Yahoo! CEO, which earns her upwards of $117 million over 5 years, an an innovator set on rejuvenating an ailing company. But, instead she has decided to create unsustainable regulations for her employees instead of working to implement other less restrictive options such as collaborative work spaces off-site or, as Ms. Glass mentions, “a results-oriented system of evaluation for all employees, telecommuting or not.” I believe that Ms. Mayer wants her company to succeed, but the only improvement the new regulations will create is a larger gathering at the water cooler.