Will Yahoo’s Telecommuting Ban Start a Corporate Trend?

Yahoo headquarters
Yahoo headquarters

The alternative workplace world – and the mainstream business world for that matter – is buzzing about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s move to ban telecommuting.

Why would a technology innovator shun the productivity benefits of telecommuting, which have been widely touted in research studies for years? And how could a new mother possibly put the kibosh on flexible work arrangements in one fell swoop? And how could this impact the virtual office industry?

In the words of Yahoo Human Resources Head Jackie Reses:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. 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 bottom line: Beginning in June, the search engine giant is asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo offices. Reses says being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in the company’s offices.

Outrage Rising
Despite the fact that Apple and Google hold the same no-telecommuting policies, Mayer’s edict is stirring up quite a storm inside the company and out.

The reaction: outrage, confusion and a possible mutiny.

“Mayer is trying to put together a 21st century technology company using 19th century workplace mentalities,” writes Steve Woods on Technorati. :Expect a wave of attrition at Yahoo, as some of their most important employees are lured by forward-looking companies using cutting-edge technologies to build a close tribe across great distances.”

Richard Branson, chief of Virgin, called the controversial move “perplexing” and said it was a “a backwards step.” He wrote, “Working life isn’t 9-5 any more. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.”

Jean-Baptiste Su, a Forbes contributor who writes about the business of technology from Silicon Valley, agrees that Yahoo’s telecommuting ban is a big mistake. He predicts Mayer will reverse her decision before it ever goes into effect.

“By engaging with their employees, perhaps suggesting new systems and tools to measure how work is accomplished, by teleworkers or not, Yahoo executives would have shown a much friendlier face while trying to get things done,” he wrote. “Instead, Mayer’s unilateral decision revealed distrust of employees and hurt their already low-morale.”

Flexible Workers Speak Out
But it’s not just the industry watchers that are shaking their heads. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and Joan Blades, co-founders of MomsRising, are also speaking out. These and other flexible work boosters are concerned that Yahoo’s move could drive a disturbing trend.

“Flexible work environments can be highly effective in many jobs, not just for parents or others with family obligations, but for anyone. Removing this option cuts a company off from the talented and innovative workers they need to remain competitive,” the duo says.

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“Companies like Yahoo, which need highly creative and talented people for their workforces must to understand the important benefits of allowing employees to work remotely on their overall productivity and the well-being of our nation’s families.”

Will This Impact Your Virtual Office Operation?
Bringing it home to the business center industry, this could be damaging. While one company’s decision not to allow telecommuting won’t decimate the growing virtual office and meeting rooms business, the high-profile move certainly casts a shadow over a bright and shining alternative office space industry.

Listen to some of the rumbling in the media:

“If Yahoo has anything to do with it, virtual working is over. That might sound unlikely, coming from a company that provides webmail and operates a search engine, but its CEO Marissa Mayer has decreed that staff are to step through the portal out of cyberspace back into ‘meatspace,” writes Jasmine Gardner, a reporter for the London Evening Standard.

How is the industry responding? Executive Offices Group offered a comment to the London Evening Standard. Emily Smith told Gardner that while the market for physical office space is steady, the growth area, particularly with start-ups, is for a London office address and serviced telephone line while actually working from home. “That way of working is up by 20 percent,” she says.

What’s your take on the issue? Do you expect Yahoo’s ban on telecommuting to make a negative trickle down on your business center?

Image source – courtesy of WhisperToMe (WikiCommons)

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