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Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer surprises business world by ending her company's option to work from home

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26 2013 10:50 p.m. MST

This image released by NBC shows host Savannah Guthrie, left, with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer on NBC News' "Today" show, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in New York as Mayer introduces the website's redesign. Yahoo is renovating the main entry into its website in an effort to get people to visit more frequently and linger for longer periods of time. The long-awaited makeover of Yahoo.com's home page is the most notable change to the website since the Internet company hired Marissa Mayer as its CEO seven months ago. The new look will start to gradually roll out in the U.S early Wednesday.

NBC NewsWire, AP Photo/NBC Peter Kramer/NBC

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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has surprised the business world with news she's barring employees from working from home, starting this June. It has been considered a family-friendly practice that provides some families with needed flexibility. But Mayer said having people come into the office each day will "foster collaboration."

"It's the only thing that has made our lives remotely possible and affordable and sort of possible to raise kids," said Lopa Pal, 36. She told USA Today that she has stayed in the job she's had for eight years as a donor relationship officer for the Greenbelt Alliance, a San Francisco-based conservation group, because of the flexibility. She and her husband have two kids, 4 and 8.

"Corporate America's most famous working mother has banned her employees from working at home," wrote Jessica Guynn of the L.A. Times. "Now the backlash is threatening to overshadow the progress she has made turning around Yahoo Inc."

Yahoo declined to discuss internal matters, but USA Today quoted a memo workers got Friday that said the change would help employees be "more productive, efficient and fun." It also noted that "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," the newspaper quoted.

Telecommuting has both cheerleaders and critics. According to a report in Monthly Labor Review in June by researchers from the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Iowa, "Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

The report focused not on the occasional hours working at home, but on work tasks regularly performed at home. The researchers said about 24 percent of employed Americans said in recent surveys that they work at least some hours at home each week. In their sample, the average was six hours a week.

Some workplace experts suggest ending telecommuting is a good strategy for a struggling company that needs to gather its employees and assess who's deadwood and who is not.

But other experts warn that Mayer will lose great employees. "Mayer has taken a giant leap backward," a joint statement by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, authors of "Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It: A Results-Only Guide to Taking Control of Wok, Not People," said.

They predicted she will find herself at the helm of a group of employees who are "good at showing up and putting in time."

The L.A. Times article said that "working moms are in an uproar because they believe that Mayer is setting them back by taking away their flexible working arrangements. Many view telecommuting as the only way time-crunched women can care for young children and advance their careers without the pay, privilege or perks that come with being the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company."

Guynn wrote that "some observers speculated that Mayer was looking to trim unproductive workers without the costs associated with a layoff and in the process may have gotten more bad publicity than she bargained for."

The Society for Human Resource Management suggested on its blog that telecommuting could be one way for a company to stay attractive and appeal to talented workers despite a trend toward shrinking benefits. In 2011, it said, its surveys found an increase to 20 percent in the number of companies that offer telecommuting to full-time employees. Among the benefits it cited were savings of up to $10,000 per year, per person, "due to increased productivity, reduced facilities costs and lower absenteeism and turnover."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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