Yahoo turns the clock back on evolving telecommuting practices

27th February 2013
Yahoo turns the clock back on evolving telecommuting practices

By Anand Parthasarathy

February 27 2013:Internet company Yahoo! has sent a memo to its employees worldwide –‘from Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing’ -- cancelling the practice of working from home. The memo is from HR head Jackie Reses but bears the stamp of new CEO Marissa Meyer,37, who took over at Yahoo in July last – and famously resumed work just two weeks after she had a baby. 
The memo which was leaked in full at the AllThingsD blog says : “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 memo which puts the work-from-home ban in place from June, also takes a gratuitous swipe at those who only work from home on rare occasions for personal reasons: “..For the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.” In a clarification carried by the New York Times, Yahoo has said “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home....This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.”

This may well be the  Yahoo! CEO’s last ditch attempt to turn the company around, but the tech industry at large, has found it hard to understand the logic of enforcing strict office attendance in an emerging era of telecommuting, where overall efficiency has generally been seen to improve when employees are given the freedom to occasionally -- if not regularly – remain productive without punching the office time clock.
This trend has come hand in hand with the other emerging practice: BYOD or Bring Your Own Device, where Indian corporates especially in the IT sector have been found to be world leaders ( with China) by two independent surveys conducted last year by Cisco and BT. The idea of using your personal computing device in the office makes sense only if you can continue that work seamlessly while on the move, on tour or at home. 
At the launch of the new Blackberry 10 platform in Mumbai earlier this week, I saw the clever way the Blackberry Z10 smartphone had been partitioned with what it called Balance technology so that secure work applications and personal content could reside on the same device. The Z10 is made for the age of BYOD – and work from home.

The India end of global tech players have not lagged behind in embracing new work cultures like work from home. I once went to one of IBM’s offices in Bangalore for a media briefing and found that the corporate communications executive who had set up the meeting was as much a stranger as I was at the facility. She was encouraged to work from home as much as possible since her work involved interaction with outsiders like me. In fact she had to requisition a workstation in advance, if she chose to come in for any length of time. The fact that she had a small baby meant that the companies policy was both pragmatic and humane.

Since she took over as CEO of CapGemini’s India operations which boasts a work force of over 40,000-person-strong, Aruna Jayanthi has put in place a number of employee-friendly practices which, she reiterates in interviews only work to the company’s advantage. The company allows many of its staff to work from home for 2-3 days in a month when it suits them. In these days when employees carry their corporate laptops back and forth every day, this flexibility and freedom works very well -- especially when executives need to teleconference with colleagues and clients in other geographies, which sometimes means doing so outside the office hours in India.
Clearly Yahoo! sees things differently and come June if an engineer at its Bangalore R&D centre needs to interact with a colleague in Sunnyvale, California, one of them is going to have to trudge to office at some ungodly hour to join the teleconference – or get the sack.

Sounds bizarre, coming from a company that we admired as one of the true pioneers of the Internet Age. And by the way: Ms Meyer has reportedly set up a nursery right next to her office to better look after her four month son. So clearly she has neatly overcome her own need to work from home.

Here’s what others say:

Bloomberg Businessweek : “What’s really troubling about this is that a technology company can’t figure out how to collaborate remotely,” says Kate Lister, president of the Telework Research Center. “[This decision] runs counter to worldwide trends toward more remote work.” …It highlights Yahoo’s apparent inability to keep tabs on its employees unless they’re physically at their desks. While Reses’ memo implied that employees are unproductive at home, several academic studies counter this claim. For example, a recent study from Stanford University (PDF) found that when a Chinese travel agency let employees work from home, they were 13 percent more productive than when they worked in the building, ultimately saving the company $2,000 per year”
Richard Branson in a blog quoted by Reuters / IBN Live said the move by Yahoo! undermined the trust that staff would get their work done wherever, without supervision, as working is no longer 9-5."This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever…If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality."
Economic Times: What does Yahoo's work from home ban mean for Indian cos
Finally from Samsung, a guide to get it right and work-from-home: How to Work from Home and Actually be Productive.

See a video in our home page tech video spot on the Yahoo diktat