Leadership on Point

Will Yahoo’s Ban on Telecommuting Fix The Problem?

March 1, 2013 Richard Levin

As a vocal proponent of telecommuting throughout my career, I am not so sure that Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting is necessarily a setback for working parents and work/family policies (many of which I helped develop over the years).

Having visited the Bay Area several times over the past year, it appears to me that despite Silicon Valley’s reputation as the hub of telecommuting, many Bay Area workers spend part of their workweek IN the office.  But here is the key:  Bay Area companies seem to utilize flex time more than telecommuting – workers frequently come to work “late” (after 9 or 10) and leave “early” (before 4 or 5), checking in frequently from home, cars, or trains when they are not in the office.  So the real story here is not necessarily Yahoo’s ban on telecommuting, but whether the company will still encourage flexible hours and avoid the useless metric of facetime, the policy of being in an office for a set number of hours, regardless of your output.

Here at RLA, where we do have an office but most of our team works remotely, we find that some of our best ideas come from the energy of being together in the same room.  I’m not sure we could sustain that every day, or would even want to, but the once a week or so that we are together, we do seem to get more done. My guess is that is what Marissa Mayer is striving for: a culture where impromptu hallway conversations and face-to-face interactions propagate energy, ideas, and innovation.  You can see this in the statement by Yahoo’s EVP of People and Development Jackie Reses that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will need to be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”

Here’s the bottom line: if Yahoo wants its people to work smarter and not just harder, it should strengthen its policies on flextime, avoid the ugliness of facetime, and permit some degree of telecommuting for those who really do need or thrive with that option, are more productive working alone, and who might otherwise be poached by the competition who aren’t compromising their family-friendly benefits.



Written by Dr. Richard Levin, President of Richard Levin & Associates. He can be reached at rlevin@richardlevinassociates.com.