Yahoo’s Ban on Working From Home

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably heard about Yahoo’s recent decision to prohibit employees from working from home. The ban, intended to promote collaboration and innovation, will start in June. Almost all of the news coverage I’ve heard and read has focused on a few angles:

  • Is innovation really harmed when employees work from home? (The consensus: yes, but productivity is higher when employees work from home, in certain jobs at least.)
  • Is this the start of a trend? (To quote the Magic Eight Ball, “my sources say no.” The trade-off makes sense only for companies that must innovate constantly to succeed: the serial innovators, as John Sullivan referred to them on the PBS NewsHour. And Yahoo needs to make some big changes to turn its fortunes around.)
  • Isn’t it kind of ironic that perhaps the most famous working mom — other than Michelle Obama — instituted this policy? (You be the judge. Over at the Daily Beast, Ellen Galinsky points out that men are more likely than women to work mainly ¬†from home, and more likely to be allowed to work from home.)

All interesting discussions. What interested me far more, however, was the memo that actually announced the change, sent out by Yahoo’s head of HR (and reproduced here at AllThingsD). If I were a Yahoo employee — or just a Yahoo, as the memo puts it — who had been working from home, and I received this memo, I would be pretty angry. I’m not sure if I would be angry enough to send it to the media, as a number of Yahoos apparently did, despite the all caps heading tagging the memo as “PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL — DO NOT FORWARD.” But angry for sure.

The change in policy is bad enough from an employee perspective, especially considering that some employees may have taken the job (or turned down other offers) because of the opportunity to work from home — and arranged their lives accordingly, from child care to pet ownership to buying or renting a home that’s too far away to commute regularly. No matter where you come down on the innovation/productivity argument, or whether you think this change will ultimately help Yahoo rebound, it’s clear that an employee benefit is being taken away.

Which must have made the odd cheerleading tone of the memo hard to take. There’s no acknowledgment that this might be difficult or unwelcome for some employees. There are, however, many references to the company’s culture and identity, from what “being a yahoo” is all about to the need “to be one Yahoo!” to the company’s effort “to become the absolute best place to work.” There’s also an admonition that even Yahoos who “occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy” must use their “best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.” Seriously? Does that mean missing even a few hours of work could harm the company’s success? Could they have come up with a more frivolous reason to miss work? Using the official announcement of what is sure to be an unpopular change in company policy to tout what a “productive, efficient and fun” place you are to work is the kind of HR speak that gets internal memos sent to news outlets by angry employees. I’m just sayin’.