Telecommuting has suddenly become a hot topic these past few weeks as Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer announced through a HR Memorandum to her employees that there would be no more telecommuting at Yahoo – period. Shockwaves reverberated throughout the media and business world, but I’m sure they were mild in comparison to the shockwaves that must have been felt at Yahoo. Let’s face it – Yahoo is an internet company.
Shouldn’t they be leaders in telecommuting? Apparently not.
Marissa’s memorandum indicated that there is a need for all employees to be under the same roof in order to begin producing more creatively. Apparently she feels that some of the company’s problems are due to the fact that employees don’t have the opportunity to work together creatively unless they are spending time together.
Does she have a point?
I remember working in office settings as a high school teen and young adult. Our desks were in one big room – no partitions, no cubicles, no hiding from everyone. Everyone saw how diligently you were working and producing. Everyone overheard your phone conversations. It forced you to learn to focus on your own work and overlook distractions. But the best part for me was that I could observe and take notes and learn from the others in my office. They shared their knowledge. They shared their tips and strategies for dealing with problems, they helped me learn how to deal with people, and they became friends.
When I moved on to a new job, I found myself in a cubicle. It felt good to not always have somebody looking over my shoulder, to not be interrupted by others in nearby proximity, to not feeling like I had days where I was constantly being distracted, but I soon found the cubicle to be isolating. It was harder to get to know others in the office. It was harder to collaborate on projects – we were always looking for an open conference room so that we could discuss/hash out the project/problem and then be able to lay out the project.
In telling you all of this, I am trying to relate my “cubicle” experience to that of telecommuting. Of course, there are upsides to telecommuting – it’s much greener; you can telecommute from almost anywhere in the world, so your employee pool is infinitely greater; it’s lower overhead for the company in terms of necessary office space; it’s great for employees who need to be on call for children or elderly family members, etc. etc. The list could go on and on.
But there are some of the same downsides to telecommuting that I experienced in my little cubicle. Lack of personal involvement, lack of mentorship, lack of camaraderie, etc. etc.
So how do I view Ms. Mayer’s edict? Well – she has chosen a “one size fits all” type of approach that I think will only serve to alienate employees. Not the outcome she is looking for. Instead, I think a better, more balanced approach would have been to decide which of the positions really need to be “in office” to generate the creativity/productivity she is looking for, while leaving the other positions open to telecommuting.
Discernment is a quality of a true leader