The short answer to the question does anyone agree with Marissa Mayer’s recently reported decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo! is: only Google (and this guy on the HBR blogs). Mayer’s ex-employer is famously hostile to telecommuting, but with its sexy reputation, gold-plated perks and cutting edge work, it can afford to be.
Besides the top brass in Mountain View who presumably met the news with a shrug, the remainder of the tech commentariat responded with something approaching horror. Why? Objections seem to fall into three broad categories.
Less Trust, Less Innovation, Less Productivity
No less prominent an entrepreneur than Richard Branson is leading the charge when it comes to the argument that Mayer’s decree amounts, essentially, to a declaration that she doesn’t trust her employees and that this lack of trust will hurt productivity more than co-location will boost it.
“To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision,” he writes.
And that trust doesn’t just mean more innovation. It also means more productivity (and cost savings), according to a raft of research. “Study after study shows that allowing people to work wherever they want increases productivity and engagement while reducing turnover, absenteeism, and real estate costs. Our research show a typical organization can save between $10,000 and $13,000 per half-time teleworker per year from those four factors,” declares the Telework Research Council. Slate likewise rounds up research supporting the link between telecommuting and productivity, concluding “numerous studies have found that people can be more productive when they’re allowed to work away from the office.”
Not only will Yahoo! lose productivity and cash, say experts, its also likely to lose talent. “It’s no wonder that they’ve been suffering from severe brain drain for a long time,” says David Heinemeier Hansson on 37signal’s Signal v. Noise.
Image you’re a Yahoo employee. Upon hearing the new policy, “are you going to be filled with go-getter spirit and leap to the opportunity to make Yahoo more than just ‘your day-to-day job’? Of course not, you’re going to be angry at such a callous edict, declared without your consultation,” he says, continuing: “Now imagine all the people who actually have a choice of where they want to work. Does management really think that the best Yahoo employees currently on remote work arrangements will simply buckle and cave? Why on earth would they do that given the wonderful alternatives available to remote workers today? No, they’re simply going to leave, and only those without options will be left behind (and resentful).” (Though some commentators speculate that might be the point, arguing that the whole move is designed to push slacking telecommuters to quit.)
The Daily Kos sums this thinking up succinctly: “Forcing people to traipse to the office every day won’t necessarily inspire that serendipitous collaborative spark. It will, however, serve as a loud and unambiguous wake-up call to Ms. Mayer’s employees that it’s time to leave for more truly collaborative pastures.”
One group seems particularly incensed by Mayer’s decision—working mothers, specifically those that unlike Mayer herself do not have the clout and the capital to install a nursery with nanny next to their office. Business Insider has rounded up mommy bloggers’ more scathing responses.
Mayer “seems so out of touch with the reality of the American family,” says one, while another says she is disappointed in Mayer, calling her decision “totally out of touch with the very stretched lives of the vast majority of working parents who don’t have the benefit of a $300 million cash cushion and all of the work-life support that kind of money can buy.”
This personal outrage gives way to political anger on Salon, where Irin Carmon calls Mayer’s move “deeply political” and points out the contrast with Mayer’s fellow Google alum Sheryl Sandberg who “is about to publish a book on female leadership that kicks off with her using her clout at Google to get accommodations for pregnant employees.” Yahoo’s new “one-size-fits-all workplace is one that is bad for people who can’t drop everything for the water cooler,” the piece concludes.
What’s your reaction to Mayer’s decision?