RIP WFH: Yahoo! calls time on home working
Beleaguered internet firm Yahoo! surprised many on Friday when it announced an end to working from home in the company.
In a memo widely leaked by disgruntled employees, Yahoo!’s Head of HR Jackie Reses explained:
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.
What does this mean?
While it’s thought only a few hundred customer service reps are based entirely at home, the change in policy affects a great many more who work part of the time from home, and even asks those who take an occasional day to wait in for a repair or delivery to reconsider.
Yahoo! employees have until June this year to relocate, quit or get on board with the new policy.
The move prompted a lot of discussion online, particularly amongst intranet and digital workplace practitioners, who for years now have strived to ensure work is what you do, not where you go.
The tech world has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to flexible working, with startups pioneering flexible work arrangements and being early adopters of digital workplace tools. As we noted last year, this has now become mainstream, with acceptance of home-based working powered by the digital workplace growing in even fairly traditional sectors such as government and financial services.
Once one of the most innovative startups around, Yahoo! is said to have lost its edge in recent years. In an attempt to regain that momentum,last summer they brought in former Google exec Marissa Mayer. She quickly sought to bring Yahoo!’s perks and culture up to date with those elsewhere in Silicon Valley, giving employees free meals and iPhones, and bringing in weekly open meetings.
All of which makes the decision to pull the plug on home working even harder to understand. If an internet company – with digital native employees, great technology and connectivity – can’t make home-working a success, what hope has anyone else?
Flexible working is the future
As digital workplace practitioners ourselves – all four of us work from home all or part of the time – we were particularly surprised by the news. Cloud technology, tablet computing, high speed broadband access make working from home as efficient as office-based activity. Add into the equation that home-based workers are happier, require less costly company-provided office space and have a vastly reduced commuter carbon footprints makes the edict from Yahoo! feel a terribly retrograde move.
It certainly puts Yahoo! well out of step with prevailing industry trends. In this year’s Digital Workplace Trends report, Jane McConnell found over a third of organisations considered mobility to be their highest investment priority for the year ahead – something that looks set to continue to grow in future years.
In his book The Digital Workplace: How Technology Is Liberating Work, intranet entrepreneur Paul Miller argues “Physical place will become less and less central to work itself. What will be transformational will be the new geography of work: the Digital Workplace where we will spend more and more time, working in entirely new ways, with richer, more immersive tools.”
Growing numbers of organisations are already finding the digital workplace delivers cost savings, more engaged employees, reduced environmental impact, and scores of other benefits besides, without a loss in productivity.
Yahoo! needs to tread carefully
However, Yahoo! are not alone in failing to realise these benefits. A survey of 400 businesses and 2,000 workers published last week by communications giant O2 found that staff were willing to embrace new ways of working, but they were not being supported by their employers.
O2 business director Ben Dowd said: “Just six months since Britain’s biggest flexible working opportunity, the Olympics, it’s shocking that less than one fifth of people feel they are encouraged to work flexibly. Businesses must sit up and take notice of this critical evolution in employee behaviour and create a business culture equipped to support it. Talking about it simply isn’t enough. To create a truly flexible working culture, actions speak louder than words.”
Yahoo!’s actions suggest their business culture is badly out of step with modern ways of working, and hardly suggests they’re at the cutting edge of web technology. With more employees considering flexible working an essential part of their overall pay and benefits package, some have suggested Yahoo! are making themselves an unattractive prospect to prospective hires and investors alike.