27 February 2013

Why the yahoos at Yahoo are wrong...

The announcement this week by Yahoo CEO Marrisa Mayer that remote workers must now sit in a Yahoo office to work has unleashed a firestorm of criticism. [See the WSJ's "Yahoo Work from Home Edict Fires Debate".] On one hand, Mayer is correct that there are times when face to face interaction eases collaboration and certainly it's easier for Old School type managers to 'manage' employees they can observe. If the parking lot is full and everyone is busy typing something, then we must be productive, right?

Maybe not.

Research continues to show that productivity increases when employees work from home. Offices are noisy and distracting with Bob's Monday morning quarterbacking and Sue's coordination of lunch plans. And - sorry but I chuckle pointing this out - isn't the face-time argument a moot point if your company has more than one office?!?!?!? Ultimately, employees will be collaborating via email, instant messages, audio and videoconferencing, etc. even if they sit in buildings bearing your company logo.

Equally important, corporate offices cost a lot of money. In this age of austerity, can you really justify the overhead of your facilities cost against the perceived benefit of eased collaboration? Maybe. A decade ago, I was working for a global IT outsourcing firm that paid $1,400/month for a cubicle in Dallas and $25,000/month for an office in downtown London. That's per person for 140,000 employees. You could argue the corporate office is already there so the cost is a wash - but real estate can be subleased or sold.

Mandating that employees come into the office severely limits a company's pool of potential candidates. First, you can only employ people willing to work for a company with a rigid culture. (Telecommuting is so much the norm now that banning it - much less a high tech company banning it - is oddly regressive.) Second, mandating a fixed geographic location for workers limits you to employees living within a reasonable commute. (Here's hoping there's a stellar pool of candidates in your neighborhood...)

I'll write a follow-up post with tips for successfully working from home - and managing a team of remote workers. For now, I will predict Yahoo will see a spike in resignations as their team members find better options. (Do they understand unemployment is near zero in our sector?) The exits will drive hiring from a geographically limited pool of talent who will demand higher salaries to compensate for the inflexibility of the job.

I give it a year. Max.