February 28, 2013

Boo for Yahoo

Boo for Yahoo

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, made headlines this week by announcing that the search engine giant would do away with its long-time policy of allowing employees to work from home. Well, Marissa, I’m a big fan, but I think you may have missed the mark on this one.

We have spent a lot of time and money at Marcum to create the electronic capability for team members at all levels to be able to work remotely, outside the traditional office environment, in whole or in part. Whether at home, on an airplane, a client site or the beach, being able to be productive outside of the office has become essential to the way we do business today. I could not conceivably do my job if there weren’t provisions for me to work away from my desk. And the same is true for many of our Firm’s employees as well.

Now, I certainly agree that collaboration and teamwork foster greater creativity and in some cases greater productivity. But I also understand the value of having several hours of uninterrupted time with my own thoughts out of the office, when I really have to focus on something and get it done. There’s a proper time and place for collaboration as well as for flying solo, and companies need to recognize the value of both. It really shouldn’t have to be an either-or proposition.

The lost opportunity in Yahoo’s new policy is flexibility. Just as business plans must be flexible to adjust to changing market conditions and to capitalize on emerging opportunities, so must workforce management policies be flexible to accommodate the shifting priorities and competing demands of today’s complex work world. One size does not fit all.

Who hasn’t been held hostage at home by a 4-hour service appointment window? Working at home allows for these contingencies of daily life while greatly reducing worker stress and enabling remote productivity. For those of us with children, how many ball games, class trips, school plays, parent-teacher conferences and graduations would we have missed if we couldn’t make up that time later in the day or evening to service our clients? The benefit of being flexible pays off in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is worker loyalty.

Aside from the practical considerations, there is also a great irony in Yahoo’s workday dictum. The Internet has been the primary engine that converted our 9-5, Monday to Friday workweek into a 24/7 world. Who doesn’t check office email remotely (even obsessively), or use their smart phone notepad to jot down the strokes of genius that inevitably come in the middle of a movie, or the middle of the night? Companies most definitely benefit from the wiring of their employees to the workplace, and employees should be able to benefit from the investment of time they make in their jobs outside of standard office hours. Perhaps especially employees of one of the Internet’s pioneers.

Are there times when having everyone working in the same place makes things more efficient? Is it more difficult to manage people working remotely? The answer to both is obviously yes. But is sacrificing the opportunity to reduce worker stress; accommodate inventive, creative work solutions; and engender employee loyalty in a company’s best interest? I don’t think so.