The end of remote working for Yahoo! employees

Last week Marissa Mayer, the high profile CEO of Yahoo! issued an edict which effectively ended working from home for Yahoo! employees. They have all been ordered to report to duty in the office and turn up for work in the good old fashioned way.

This seems to fly in the face of what we have been told the future of working life would be. We were given a mythical vision of a time where we wouldn’t need to cram ourselves on the Bakerloo line every day as we wouldn’t need to go to an office. In the unlikely event of us having to leave our homes we would all be travelling on “Back to the future” style Hoverboards. Were we mis-sold this vision?

Certainly the technology is there to facilitate employees working from home without compromising on what they are able to do. There is certainly an appetite to do it as well as I am regularly asked by my customers how this can be achieved. It does certainly create opportunities and flexible remote working does allow people into the labour market who can’t work a traditional full time office job simply due to family commitments.

New media and tech companies are supposed to be at the forefront of the evolution of these new and exciting working arrangements – they set the example and other companies look at it and decide to follow. So why then has Ms Mayer implemented the kind of policy that many people (doubtless including Yahoo! employees) would consider a step back into the Stone Age?

A group of people all working in an office? How very quaint and last century I hear people say…

There has been not a great deal of explanation from Ms Mayer as to why this step has been taken (after all she’s the boss and doesn’t need to show working out). Predictably enough, this information vacuum has been filled by the great and the good of media commentators offering their very worthy opinions. As well as the great and the good you also have Account Managers at IT companies (i.e. me) giving their two cents worth as well.

In my last job I did spend just over two years being based from home. There were various offices dotted around the country and I could go and when I needed to, but for that period around 75% of my time was spent at home, tapping away on my Laptop in the spare bedroom. In a case of fortuitous timing the start of this job coincided with the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany and I must confess that I did take the opportunity to enjoy my new found freedom and watch most of the games with just half an eye on my mailbox. However I found that once the novelty wore off, and equally importantly the World Cup had finished (Italy beat France on penalties, Zidane head-butted Materazzi – surely you remember?) I found that my day did drop into a routine of spending most of the time at my desk. I was working longer hours as I wasn’t travelling to work and definitely felt I was getting more done than had I been in an office.

One thing that I did miss was the human contact, as it did feel a little lonely at times going for several days without seeing anyone in person (with the exception of my dear wife obviously). I do believe that people do work better together in a group and Mayer may have come to this conclusion herself. The thought of everyone is working in their own individual silos is quite frankly a depressing one.

Even now there is still a stigma around remote working. Office based workers on the most part automatically assume these people are skiving. How many times have you heard people contemptuously refer to a colleague “Working from home” – and when they say this they are invariably drawing the quotation marks in the air with their fingers (why do people even do that by the way?) to suggest that working from home is a euphemism for laziness. Perhaps there is a perception in Yahoo that the remote workers are watching too much football (or Baseball) and the solution to this lack of productivity – whether perceived or real – is to call people back to the mother ship. It provides an opportunity to kick them back into shape and re-evaluate the situation before allowing them to retreat back to their spare bedrooms at some unspecified point in the future

It is doubtless a brave move by Mayer, and I’m sure that many people will be looking closely at how things develop at Yahoo! – sharpening their pens ready to laud her or berate her accordingly over the perceived success/failure of this venture. It is a step backwards, or at the very least a shot across the bows for the advocates of remote working but I would suggest that reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

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