One Step Back

Yahoo Has It Backward: Why Working Remotely Is Better for Everyone

Marissa Mayer is making a big mistake in banning telecommuting. Working remotely improves productivity and morale, says Ellen Galinsky, and that’s a win for everyone.

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo is making news again. First, it was that she wasn’t going to take much of a leave after the birth of her first child. Now, it’s the memo that her human resources director, Jackie Reses, sent out on Friday telling all of their telecommuting employees that they need to be working in Yahoo offices or quit.

Sometimes it seems that Mayer has to go out of her way to prove that she is more male than most men!

Reses’s memo stated: “Being at Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.”

They are going against process on this decision as the U.S. economy moves into the 21st global economy. According to Families and Work Institute’s 2012 National Study of Employers, 63 percent of employers now allow at least some of their employees to work part of their regularly paid hours at home on an occasional basis, up from 34 percent in 2005.

Employers aren’t doing this so that employees can slack off, be lazy at home, and not get work done—in fact, quite the contrary. They are doing this to save on real estate costs, to improve the environment due to less commuting, and yes, to improve employees’ productivity. In fact, workplace flexibility was a frequent response to the recession—used as a way of boosting productivity during a business downturn.

Most of Reses’s colleagues in the human resource field know this. When asked about the best way to recruit and retain top talent in a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), human resource professionals were more likely to cite flexibility (58 percent) as the most effective way to attract talent.

What I expect Yahoo to learn is that telecommuting is not the problem—it is a solution. It is clear that wherever employees work—in the office, at home, or at remote locations, they need to be well managed and engaged in making the company a success. Yes, it is about creating an engaged work culture, but in the global economy, it’s not only about bumping into other colleagues around the water cooler. It is about taking direct steps to create a culture of collaboration and innovation. If Yahoo has a problem with employees not being productive, they need to address that problem directly.

And speaking of being more male than most men, this is not a gendered issue. When asked about what they would look for in a new job, 87 percent of men and women alike said that flexibility was extremely or very important. This is the 21st century, not the 20th!