SAN FRANCISCO -- Almost 10% of U.S. workers do their jobs from home
at least one day a week, so news that tech giant Yahoo! will end the
practice in June surprised many.
"It's the only thing that has
made our lives remotely possible and affordable and sort of possible to
raise kids," says Lopa Pal, 36. She is the donor relations officer of
the Greenbelt Alliance, a conservation group in the San Francisco Bay
Area. When her second child was born, she wanted more flexibility and
discussed it with her executive director.
"Literally his words
were, 'I don't care if you do your work from a beach in Tahiti, just get
it done and raise three-quarters of a million dollars a year,'" she
She switched to working from home two days a week and over
the past four years has kept on target with fundraising while being able
to schedule time with her children, 4 and 8, and her husband, a chef.
That flexibility has kept her in her current job for eight years, even
though she figures she could probably make more money and move up if she
went elsewhere. It's made her an "extremely loyal employee," she says.
Yahoo!'s decision is meant to foster collaboration, according to a company memo sent to employees Friday.
head of human resources, Jackie Reses, wrote that communication and
collaboration will be important as the company works to be "more
productive, efficient and fun." To make that happen, she said, "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."
Yahoo! does "not comment on internal matters," spokewoman Lauren Armstrong said via e-mail Monday.
struggling Internet icon burned through four CEOs and shed thousands of
workers in the few years preceding the appointment of Marissa Mayer as
CEO last year. Her appointment gained further notoriety when she
disclosed that she was pregnant at the time of her hiring.
has since whipped the company into shape -- the stock price is up about
50% -- with a series of executive changes and acquisitions. Her latest
edict is motivated, in part, by a desire to improve productivity among
Yahoo! employees who work from home and to weed out unproductive workers,
according to a former Yahoo! employee who recently departed for another
job. He asked not to be identified because his current employer works
Authors Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler -- who wrote Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix it: A Results-Only Guide to Taking Control of Work, Not People -- say Mayer is making a mistake.
has taken a giant leap backward," they said in a joint statement.
"Instead of keeping great talent, she is going to find herself with a
workplace full of people who are good at showing up and putting in time
vs. a workforce that could most effectively and efficiently drive the
business forward in the 21st century."
The number of people who work at home has been increasing steadily, according to the U.S. Census:
• In 2010, 9.5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home at least one day a week.
• About 25% of those workers were in management, business or finance.
• People who work at home usually work the same hours as those in an office.
• Boulder, Colo., has the highest percentage of people working from home most of the week: 10.9%.
companies are encouraging telecommuting, and the U.S. government is
promoting it, to cut down on commute times, decrease traffic congestion,
require less space at offices and let employees work flexible hours.
Valley companies such as Yahoo! have been well-known for relaxed,
employee-friendly policies on scheduling and other perks.
to a survey by WorldatWork, a non-profit human resources association,
seven to eight of every 10 people surveyed said the flexibility to work
at home was "a positive or extremely positive effect" on their job
engagement, motivation and satisfaction.
Yahoo!'s decision makes
sense for Yahoo! but not for many other companies, says Vivek Wadhwa, a
researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., who studies
"Yahoo! is one messed-up company right now.
The culture is in awful shape -- values, loyalty, you name it. Marissa
(Mayer, new CEO) inherited a complete mess," Wadhwa says. By bringing
everyone in-house, she'll be able to reprogram the company's work
culture while also easily jettisoning a lot of deadwood employees who
aren't doing much now. You can't do that weed-and-feed with people at
Working at home is very popular in Silicon Valley, he
says, but it works best when the work being done has well-defined
outcomes such as reports completed, computer code written or sales made.
It doesn't work for innovative jobs where it's all about brainstorming.
"If they're writing computer code, they have clearly defined
deliverables," he says.
Yahoo!'s move goes against the trend of
employers offering the option of working from home and other flexible
working arrangements, says Lisa Horn, who co-chairs the Workplace
Flexibility Initiative of the Society for Human Resource Management, a
professional organization of human resource officers based in
Alexandria, Va. The number of employers who offer telecommuting rose
from 34% in 2005 to 63% last year, according to its surveys.
To make sense, workplace flexibility has to be effective for both the employer and the employee, Horn says.
the end of the day, Yahoo! has made the decision that perhaps it's no
longer workable for the business," she says. However, she noted that
social media have been full of news about other tech firms eager to
poach Yahoo! employees by touting their flexibility as a competitive
A common perception is that people who work from home
are often parents of young children. However, Horn says, the Millennial
generation, people 30 and younger, are much more likely to choose it.
used to working how, where and when they want," she says. "They may
have done their best work at school at very strange hours and in very
strange environments, and a rigid schedule and cubical conformity may
not work for them."
Overall, companies have found that working
from home full time doesn't work as well as working at least one or two
days a week in the office, Horn says. That seems to be necessary to keep
the lines of communication "open and strong and to maintain
relationships within the organization," she says.
Next week, March
4 through 8, is Telework Week, an annual global effort that encourages
companies to telework to improve productivity, reduce traffic and
greenhouse gas emissions, and aid in personnel retention. Last year more
than 71,000 people pledged to work from home at least one day during
the week, which saved $5,651,890 on commuting costs, kept 3,453 tons of
pollutants from the air and resulted in 6,413,006 fewer miles being
driven, according to Mobile Work Exchange, the business that supports