Is Yahoo Right In Banning ‘Work At Home’ Or Has Made Another Corporate Blunder?

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Unless you’ve been on a sand reef for the prior week, you presumably couldn’t miss the latest headlines out of Yahoo.

Everyone is talking about Marissa Mayer ending Yahoo’s work-from-home policy. It has stirred up a lot of controversy in the business world. I do think it is an important conversation to have, but I’m not here to take sides or judge.

I can absolutely see the benefits of telecommuting – both for organizations and their employees. It can be good for morale and productivity. It gives employees the flexibility to find the right work/life balance. It allows organizations to attract talent from all over the world. And it reduces overhead by eliminating the need for office space.

I also think that, in certain happenings, it might be necessary for organizations to reel in their remote workers. They may be concerned about communications, team cohesion or personal accountability. They may need all hands on deck to meet strategic goals or are in a turn around the situation.

But organizations should not offer to telecommute as an option simply because it is part of the employee engagement model that has come into fashion in the past 10 or 15 years. Yahoo and other Silicon Valley companies virtually invented this employee engagement model – one that emphasizes employee perks like the workday flexibility to attract top talent and encourage creativity. In many cases, it works. However, engagement without personal accountability is a recipe for disaster (i.e. everyone is happy, but the company isn’t making any money).

The question is, how do you strike the right balance to make telecommuting work for your organization and your employees?

Yahoo says that killing working from home is turning out perfectly.

Despite predictions of epic policy failure, in the words of Julie Ford-Tempesta, Yahoo’s senior director of real estate and workplace, employee engagement is up, product launches have increased significantly, and agile teams are thriving, adding:

The workplace has become a catalyst for energy and buzz.

Ford-Tempesta’s comments were included in a paper called The Power of Presence:

Being Present In a Virtual World, published last week at the CoreNet Global Summit in Las Vegas, where several thousand real estate execs gathered to debate the future of the office.

In the report, Yahoo’s Ford-Tempesta points to the near-doubling of the stock price since the beginning of the year, an assertion which is dubious at best considering how much of that value is tied up in the company’s 24% stake in the soon-to-IPO Alibaba, while its third quarter revenues and profits are both down compared to a year ago.

That may not be quite as much as the $17 billion in market cap that the report lays at the feet of killing working from home, but Mayer certainly doesn’t have to say she’s sorry, either.