The company memo does permit using one’s judgment on the occasional need to “stay home for the cable guy.” (A Yahoo spokesperson responded to my email with questions about the policy by saying the company doesn’t comment on rumor, speculation or internal matters.) Still, the overall impression the memo seems to leave is of a nearly blanket ban on working remotely. Even more painful than the irony could end up being employees’ reaction to such a move.
Such a policy could very well hurt Yahoo’s chances at recruiting the most talented young developers, engineers and executive talent. Some may not be willing to relocate to live near a Yahoo office, limiting the size of its recruiting pool. Others may simply like the now widely accepted idea that working from home, say, once a week, can help clear away the distractions, prevent getting lured into pointless meetings, and eliminate the drive-by chatter that can destroy even the most focused engineer’s concentration. After all, anyone who’s ever worked in a cubicle farm knows that while open floor plans might encourage collaboration, they also encourage hours of lost productivity.
Moreover, whatever improvement the company sees in speed, quality and innovative ideas could be offset by decreased satisfaction among current employees. Studieshave shown that telecommuting improves employee productivity, engagement, job satisfaction and retention, even if it also means those who work from home often end up working more hours. So it stands to reason that taking away the ability to skip long commutes and work in an environment with fewer interruptions could have a negative impact on workplace morale.
Finally, studies do little to capture the intangible and indirect effects such broad-based decrees like the Yahoo memo have. 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.
It’s certainly possible that remote work arrangements had gotten out of hand at Yahoo, with people abusing the privilege and staying away from the office to the point where the costs of the perk outweighed the benefits. And Yahoo is right, of course, that there are big advantages to the sort of serendipitous conversations and quick decision-making that face-to-face proximity provides.