Why working from home bans won’t work out for Yahoo!

Ann Francke
marissa mayer getty 225x300 Why working from home bans won’t work out for Yahoo!

Marissa Mayer (Getty Images)

Yahoo! Chief Exec Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban employees of the tech giant from working home has divided opinion – attracting significantly more criticism than praise. It’s proved to be an inflammatory and controversial choice which has garnered a huge amount of publicity for Yahoo!. Given that the memo breaking the news to staff last Friday was marked ‘do not forward’, this is clearly something Mayer anticipated.

Until this week, Mayer had built an impressive reputation as the tech world’s media darling, rapidly scaling the ranks in some of the highest profile businesses in the world. But, with this latest move, she’s undone years of management culture progress, taking us back to a time when promotions and pay rises were awarded to the most visible, rather than the most productive, employees.

The move has stirred up the debate about whether working from home is essentially a licence to skive off. Mayer’s rationale is that to be the ‘absolute best place to work’, her staff need to be ‘working side by side’ and ‘present in our offices’. This, she believes, the key to having the best possible communication and collaboration and, by extension, business success.

Mayer is spot on that communication and collaboration are key to building a successful business. They’re something managers need to get much better at doing themselves and encouraging in others. But to axe the option to work from home as a way of achieving this is a false economy. Why? There are many reasons – but the one thing they all have in common is that they improve the bottom line.

For starters, flexible working is way up there on the list of managers’ policy must-haves – over 70 per cent back it according to CMI’s most recent Future Forecast report. It was also identified in our Women’s Leadership Summit as one of the major enablers helping women – and men – navigate modern workplaces and combine these responsibilities with family. As has been much talked about recently, more women at the top of businesses spells business success. Home working options are a great way to help women push past the glass ceiling hurdle should they choose to have children.

Cultures that embrace flexible working styles also produce happy, healthy employees that satisfy customers, innovate and produce meaningful results.  The recentwinning Management Article of the Year, by Professor Les Worrall of Coventry University and Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University’s Management School proves that collaborative, flexible, trusting cultures enable employee wellbeing and company growth. These organisations achieve far better results than autocratic, suspicious cultures – exactly the type where managers are convinced that if allowed to work from home an employee will actually just not bother trying.

Take the example of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, a global organisation whose home working experience is detailed in the REC Flexible Work Commission’s recent report. Finding itself in need of more space due to growth of its UK operations, senior management decided to trial an established home working programme from the USA with UK employees.

Enterprise started with a pilot involving a relatively small number of employees. This was soon extended to the whole reservations team when the benefits – a dramatic reduction in absenteeism and disciplinary issues, coupled with increases in both productivity and punctuality – became clear. An added, unexpected benefit was the level of talent the programme attracted – the home working positions attracted more mature and experienced external candidates than Enterprise’s office-based roles usually would. Now, for every office-based worker who leaves, a home working replacement is recruited.

One of the most common reasons for refusing to consider home working – or, as in Mayer’s case, shutting it down – is that it scares managers who don’t understand how it works or haven’t been trained in how to manage remote workers. While totally understandable, this can be easily overcome using the following top tips:

  • Start slowly. Long-serving staff may be resistant to this change so ensure you test home working with a select group of willing employees who are tasked with feeding back constructively on the scheme. Only when the benefits have been established should the programme be extended
  • Measurement is key. There will always be doubters. To help reassure them, ensure that during the pilot stage there are people doing the same role from home and in the office. With the right metrics in place, you can compare and demonstrate that standards and productivity levels aren’t slipping
  • Remember the business case. Sometimes people are so enthusiastic about introducing flexible working that they lose sight of the initial rationale. The bottom line is paramount. If you’re not seeing business benefits, you need to examine why not and make necessary adjustments
  • Review regularly. Your internal communications need to be really strong for home working to succeed. Put formal processes and systems in place to help like regular progress updates over the phone, frequent appraisals and using technology such as instant messaging software

One of the reasons people have struggled so much to understand Mayer’s decision is that it seems to undermine everything Yahoo! stands for – keeping people connected in today’s tech-enabled world. In one business decision, she’s fallen from her pedestal as a poster-girl for management 2.0 in the eyes of so many who were rooting for her continued success. Now that Mayer’s taken a tumble, what remains to be seen is how Yahoo! will fare.

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  • homestaymom

    This is a brilliant way to add to traffic congestion, commute time and pollution problems if that was her goal, job well done!

  • Peter Jenkins

    Enterprise found…working from home scheme ….experienced “a dramatic reduction in absenteeism” – uh duuuuh !

  • Foxexpress

    In another better article, Mayer is reported as seeing Yahoo workers arriving late, leaving early and clearly working on non Yahoo projects, in comparison to other companies in the valley, Yahoo was seen as lazy.

  • Foxexpress

    Very nilhilist there, well done, half a brain? which side, the emotional or logical?

  • iain carstairs

    I’ve been a software writer since 1985 and can tell you that productivity is about 100 times higher at home. You have no distractions and no worries about people tapping your shoulder to ask “one quick question!” while you’re juggling multi dimensional arrays in your head and thereby scattering all your work to the four winds.

    You sinmply cannot come up with good complex code incrementally. You need a wide attention span and absolute calm to apply it. Maybe I’m unusual, in that I hate interruptions, but I would say concentration is the same as productivity, at least for software. Even half-expecting emails to come in can take away your focus and you certainly can’t concentrate in an office where somebody’s phone is going every few minutes, and you’re forever bracing yourself for the next meaningless interruption.

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