Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s order last Friday to telecommuting employees to head back to the office has ignited a heated debate over the practice of working from home.
Mayer is receiving flak from many workers, especially working parents for putting her thumbs down on telecommuting at a time when it has become commonplace for companies large and small to accommodate employees to work from home and even provide them the tools to do so. At the other end of the spectrum, her supporters argue that this is just the kind of move to shake things up at Yahoo and encourage a more collaborative workplace.
The controversy began Friday when Yahoo employees received a memo from the company’s human resources department announcing that starting June, all employees will have to work in company offices, according to a report from SiliconValley.com.
“We need to be working side-by-side,” the memo from Jackie Reese, the company’s HR chief is reported to have said.
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It was a “desperate move by a desperate company that has trouble trusting employees,” according to Stewart Bauman, a tech worker who wrote a post on the Mercury News Facebook page.
John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm, warned that the memo “could backfire.”
He told Silicon Valley.com that many tech firms are the area are actually battling each other to attract and retain IT talent.
A paper published last week by Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom also found after a nine-month study of a Chinese online travel firm, that call centre personnel were more productive and performed better when they were allowed to work from home.
Some working parents at Yahoo are irked that Mayer appears not to understand how difficult it is for them to work and raise a family at the same time and point out that they do not have the resources available to their 37-year-old boss who recently had a nursery built into her office.
Other employees, however were reported to have told the media that telecommuting privileges were widely being abused at Yahoo and that many of those working from home were slacking off.
As enterprises became increasingly wired in the 1990s and as manufacturers began rolling out more powerful connected mobile tools such as laptops, smart phones and more recently tablets, remote working has morphed from a necessity for so-called road warriors to a nice-to-have option to lure young workers and keep existing one who are struggling to juggle work and family commitments.
Companies such as Google, where Mayer originally came from, and Cisco have made a name for themselves developing Web-based tools for collaboration and videoconferencing systems. At the same time, the likes of Facebook and Google continue to spend millions of dollars in designing offices that offer free gourmet meals and other amenities such as massages, yoga sessions, rock climbing walls and game rooms to encourage workers to spend longer hours in the office.
Facebook and Google said they allow employees to work from home and trust theirs and their managers’ judgment on the issue. Both companies provide workers spaces with couches and kitchen equipment where employees can chat and hold impromptu meetings.
When asked how many telecommuters Google had, Patrick Pichette, chief financial officer at Google, told reported: “As few as possible.”
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