Yes, you read that right. In what some experts in workplace productivity are labeling as a “giant step backward,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is moving to bring all employees into the office this June, according to an internal memo. Yahoo has declined to comment on the new policy.
This is a bold stance to take in a world where most organizations, and certainly large technology companies, are moving in the opposite direction – toward expanded work-at-home policies. In fact, I was just in a conversation last week with one of our more Evolutionary clients that has made developing a remote work policy one of its top goals in 2013.
As many of our readers know, our company is a remote operation, with consultants working from home in Oregon, Washington, Kansas and Massachusetts. I used to work for a financial institution where I went into an office from 8-5pm, Monday-Friday. There were teams of folks sitting at cubicles, getting together for meetings, trainings, lunches, coffee breaks, and even bathroom chats. And I can say without hesitation that I get more done now working from home and on airplanes than I ever did in the corner office. What is more, our remote team is closer knit. With tools like live chat, video conferencing, Skype, and more, I have found that collaborating with team members has never been easier. Recently, I successfully facilitated a Senior Leadership Team meeting for a client in Alabama right from my kitchen table in Portland, Oregon!
The remote work debate is not just about productivity and team synergy. It’s a quality of life issue. For many of today’s professionals, “job hopping” is commonplace. In my own career, I found that at the 3-year mark I was ready for a new environment and new challenges. But, after I started working from home 6 years ago, I have never been more satisfied. I still have to deliver high quality work to clients, often with very quick turnaround times, but I can figure out how to make that happen and still pick my daughter up from ballet. Sure, it might mean working at night or on a Saturday morning, but that’s my choice. And I like it that way. What I know for sure is that I am not willing to go back to the office-bound life after my taste of freedom.
And that’s just what experts in the technology sphere are saying Yahoo needs to worry about.
Talent is King
In a world where talent is king, can any organization afford to lose the best and brightest to competitors with remote work policies? “Ten years ago, it was seen as more as an employee benefit. Today, businesses around the world are seeing telework as a necessity,” said Ron Markezich, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. Enterprise and Partner Group. Matt Mullenweg, leader of the company behind WordPress, agrees: “Just because Yahoo can’t do it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with being distributed.” (Mullenweg’s organization, Automattic, operates with 120 remote workers in 26 countries). And I bet you are not really that surprised to learn that Amazon’s top engineer lives on a boat that can often be found sailing to Hawaii. For many of today’s most Evolutionary organizations, it’s common to have no offices at all – embracing a philosophy of “location agnosticism”.
And it’s not just technology companies that are making the shift – even the most slow-to-change sectors like finance and government are bowing to the demands of employees looking for telework options. Not only is telework appreciated, it can offer significant cost savings and reduced overhead. Many organizations are beginning to view this Evolutionary trend as “the future of work” – a transformation that is not only a good business strategy, but simply inevitable.
According to the internal memo, Yahoo’s intent is to increase teamwork and cohesiveness:
“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.”
You don’t have to be an expert in Human Resources to know that there are lots of other ways to build cohesive teams. And if you are one of those folks who has done your stint in the land of cubicles, odds are you know that such environments, while open, don’t naturally foster teams.
And what happens when talented Yahoo workers don’t want to relocate to live near a Yahoo office? It seems that the only option for them is going to be to quit. Research indicates that remote work increases productivity, engagement, job satisfaction and retention. Will this move have an opposite impact on morale at Yahoo? “If in fact few exceptions are made, such a mandate could lead managers to feel like their judgment isn’t valued. Similarly, a blanket ban can make employees, particularly professionals who are already spending many of their evenings and weekends working, feel as if they’re not trusted.” – Washington Post.
It seems that now, more than ever, Yahoo is in need of top talent. The big question is whether Yahoo’s highest performers are willing to forego the “untethered” lifestyle of Work 2.0.
What about you? What would you do? Send us your comments below.