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Why Did Yahoo! Ban Telecommuting for Employees?

Posted by on February 26, 2013

If you haven’t heard the recent news, Yahoo! decided to ban telecommuting and is now forcing all employees to physically come into the office to work and if they can’t or won’t then they can find a job elsewhere.  At first glance this seems a bit counter intuitive to what many other companies are doing.  Here we have organizations such as TELUS, Lowe’s, Electronic Arts, IBM, and many others around the world who are implementing collaborative tools and strategies to enable a more connected and engaged workforce with flexible environments; and then we have Yahoo! that is telling everyone that they now need to come into the office to work.

Before I even heard about the news I wrote an article on why employees should be allowed to work from home which looks at the many benefits and includes several pieces of research.

In the memo that she sent out, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer said:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.  That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.  Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.  Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.  We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

While I do agree that collaboration and communication are crucial I don’t believe that being in the same office necessarily drives that.  In fact in an article I wrote a little while back I took a look at how distance impacts collaboration.  The visual below shows that once employees are around 160-200 feet apart that communication virtually ceases to exist altogether.


I also haven’t seen any specific studies which say that  speed and quality of work is sacrificed by allowing and supporting employees to work from home.  In fact in the article I mentioned above I found research to show quite the opposite.  However, it’s not hard to find some stats and research online to support any position you want to take.  I believe that Mayer’s reasoning behind this sounds a bit “old-school.”  Many of the companies I work with are actually taking the exact opposite approach of what Mayer is suggesting.  Collaboration, communication, and innovation can be accomplished through remote working with the proper use of social and collaborative tools and strategies.  Chess Media Group alone has put together many case studies on collaboration which show this.

It’s interesting because the stock price of Yahoo! has actually been doing quite well.  I think what we are seeing on the surface vs the actual deeper reasoning behind what Mayer is suggesting are very different.  As far as I know Yahoo! hasn’t implemented any type of social collaboration solution (which also means no training, education, adoption strategies, etc).  I think what Yahoo! is really trying to do here is just regroup and get everyone back on the same page in order to build a successful framework and approach for collaboration.  It seems that this was never done to begin with which is a problem.  If the foundation was never set in place for building a collaborative organization then Yahoo! now needs to stake one step back in order to take two steps forward later.  I don’t think and can’t imagine this being a permanent change over at Yahoo!  Perhaps there was just certain issues with specific teams or groups over at the company and a blanket policy was issued in an attempt to try to rectify that.  The truth is we really don’t know why Yahoo! is doing this.

What I can say is that the smart and progressive companies who are looking at the future of work are investing heavily in social and collaborative tools and strategies to build a connected, engaged, and smarter workforce.  The research exists to support doing this as do the case studies and examples.  I really hope (and am trying to believe) that Mayer’s reasoning for forcing everyone to come to work goes beyond what she said in her quote, and I think it does.


  • I think you’re spot on: This is a temporary measure to get everyone back on the same page and, within a year or two, you’ll see them open back up with structured, and trained, collaborative work platforms. It’s kind of interesting to see if Yahoo can bounce back, like a digital phoenix; I’ll be watching this with some degree of interest. Thanks for the good read!

  • Jacob, you suggest: “As far as I know Yahoo! hasn’t implemented any type of social collaboration solution.” Not exactly true. There’s actually a significant amount of social collaboration technology within the company — ranging from old-school to the latest social-business products; from IIRC, IM, email groups, online forums, ideation forums, wikis, stream-based collab as well as real-time collab technologies, screen sharing, video conf, IP phones soft-phones with video, on brand new laptops and phones. Moreover we are updating on some of this technology, and Marissa made some significant improvements to the collaboration landscape already, ideas that are familiar to people working up the road at Google. Remember, she’s a digital native.(You’ll be glad to note that I gave her a signed copy of your book when she joined the company.)

    It is unprofessional for me, as an employee, to comment on an internal matter related to this news, one that impacts the private and confidential relationship between a relatively small number of highly valued employees and their employer. So I won’t comment. Sorry, I know people are interested, but its really not a public matter.

    Instead, let me challenge this keen interest people seem to have. The news and buzz paints a very counter-intuitive policy. So you have to wonder if people are missing some relevant information and filling it in with speculation. I’m glad you have realized this and are giving her the benefit of the doubt, knowing that she’s no fool. Your readers benefit from the fact you realized there is always more than meets the eye, and that knee-jerk reactions to news sound-bytes are not the best way to evaluate collaboration strategies.

    • Gil: Thanks so much for the greater insight even though you are prohibited from providing all the details. The information you have shared is still enlightening and offers first-hand knowledge that is more substantiated than all of the speculation of late. I admit I was one of those who speculated about Ms. Mayer’s edict when it was first publicized.
      Jacob: Thanks for the statistical analysis on the impact of collaboration in-house vs. remote. Very revealing.

  • I think you are spot on Jacob and agree totally. Although in Yahoo’s case, reading between the lines the company is in big trouble culture wise, and it seems to me that she is tackling a culture of people not working, contributing or being accountable which is a different issue.

  • Anna Pham

    It really depends on the nature of the work to have people working at home or at office.For yahoo, i think the deciison is right.