Yahoo! chief executive and ex-Google veteran Marissa Mayer has continued to shake things up in her role, this time breaking dotcom tradition and forbidding staff to work from home.
The move has surprised some Silicon Valley vets who are accustomed to using technology for flexible workplaces, but the decision is yet another change orchestrated by Mayer in an attempt to restore the company’s image – and bottom line.
The decision is also part of a curious backlash against working from home, with Mayer’s former employer Google also suggesting its working-from-home rules are stricter than some might imagine.
In a statement from Yahoo’s HR department, according to All Things Digital, the company said it wants to improve “collaboration and communication” by having staff work in the office.
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“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s head of HR, reportedly said in the memo.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
The report has attracted criticism, but Mayer’s decision isn’t without basis. According to Business Insider, several Yahoo employees work remotely and many aren’t productive, working in departments such as engineering and customer service.
Some believe the move is an attempt to cut costs, as workers who don’t agree with the new policy will end up finding other jobs.
The change isn’t without precedent. Some larger tech companies with a reputation for breaking new ground are shy when it comes to working from home. Google chief financial officer Peter Pichette said recently, during a trip to Sydney, working from home isn’t always beneficial and “as few as possible” workers do their jobs from home.
Google fosters a collegiate atmosphere in its cafeterias as a way to encourage staff to converse and come up with ideas for new products.
Mayer’s comments are at odds with the federal government’s position on teleworking. Recently Prime Minister Julia Gillard set a target for 12% of the working population to do their jobs from home by 2020.
But there is a cost to consider. Kirrily Dear, the strategy and development director of business consultancy Eyes Wide Open and a non-executive director of the Australian Institute of Management, says working from home is something all businesses need to tackle on an individual basis.
“The best ideas do happen when people work together, and there is a loss of face-to-face interaction when you’re working from home. But I think the important thing is finding the right people,” she said.
“If you get the right people, and you find ways to collaborate online, the idea is just finding the right balance for the organisation in question.”
Dear says while smaller businesses may find it easy to work from home and still be collaborative, a larger organisation such as Yahoo can become detached from its workforce and productivity can suffer. She says if a business wants to get the most out of staff from working from home, it needs to foster that type of creative environment from the ground up.
The Yahoo memo suggested speed and quality are sacrificed when staff work from home. But Dear says that won’t happen if you put the right processes in place.
“In terms of setting people up to be productive, you need the systems and the processes in place to do that,” she says.
“You need really clear job descriptions, you need to have clear key performance indicators and you need to have processes in place for every time they do work from home.
“We have experienced staff here so they understand the benefit of that type of flexibility. So if you recruit the right people, they will give as much as they take. I don’t think it’s something you can just throw out there and hope it works, there is a lot of planning involved.”
This article first appeared on LeadingCompany’s sister site, SmartCompany.