Yahoo’s CEO bans working from home, but are her reasons valid?
01 March 2013
This week, Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer ordered employees to embrace the team spirit and start working from the office, rather than connect to their virtual desktops remotely. Unsurprisingly, this decision caused major discontent amongst the troops, particularly as the nature of work does notrequire working in the office. Whilst the intervention highlights the benefits of visibility in the office, some suspect that underneath this lies the assumption that the organisation does not trust its employees and an implicit accusation of skiving.
There is some evidence to suggest that physical presence of workers in the office facilitates internal communication, strengthens team relationships and is even linked to better promotion opportunities for employees, compared to those working mostly from home or part-time. On the other hand, there is nothing to say that visibility equals productivity. According to the Guardian, the major drawback of coming in for Yahoo workers may be having to deal with chatty colleagues. Home working might actually be a solution for boosting productivity.
Some employers may think people are skiving when working from home, when for many occasional home working prevents having to bring home worries into the workplace. Increasingly, more workers will have one or more long-term conditions that may decrease their levels of energy if they have to travel into the office; many are lone parents, and the growing ‘Sandwich Generation’ has a dual burden of child and eldercare. Our current research programme into home/work boundaries finds that employees who are forced to work from the office – without objective need to be present – become increasingly dissatisfied with their employer and are likely to look for other jobs that offer greater flexibility.
At the same time, of all the flexible working options, working from home on a regular basis is the arrangement least likely to be available. For example, in 2007 23 per cent of employees said that home working is available if they need it (an increase from 20 per cent in 2004). Worryingly, men were more likely than women to say this arrangement would be available (25 per cent of men compared to 21 per cent of women). Yet, women are more likely to take on a larger proportion of childcare responsibilities in a household.
Of course, extensive remote working may not be an option for less mature teams and organisations, where communication patterns and trust between colleagues is not well established. Similarly, remote working is more difficult for new starters and teams with high interpersonal dependency on completing a project. However, as employees gain experience and desire higher levels of autonomy in managing their workload, ability to work from home is likely to help them deal with their responsibilities outside work more efficiently - and feel more committed to their employer.
Employers must understand that tight control is not the perfect solution for increased productivity – not in the long term. They should stop treating employees like children and trust them to achieve defined targets in the way that suits the individual employee – or risk losing in the war for talent.