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Yahoo Tells Staff to Get Back in the Office: No More Telecommuting for You!

Photo by Pressure to BearYahoo employees, it looks like your telecommuting days have come to an end.

Silicon Valley firms are known for cushy perks: free food, bringing your dog to work and so on. But starting in June, Yahoo employees will lose the benefit of working from home. According to an internal memo leaked on Friday to The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD.com by numerous disgruntled Yahoo employees, the new policy calls for workers "physically being together."

"We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices... Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," reads the memo from Jacqueline Reses, a private equity veteran brought on board by Mayer in September to be the company's HR boss.

You can always count on those humorless "Human" Resources folks to rain on the parade with their one-size-fits all policies. They don't worry much about the "human" side of things. That's why you hear them referring to "humans" as "talent." They're into "talent acquisition," "talent management," and "talent development." Then, at the end of your "talent life cycle," there's "talent disposal." When your HR people aren't even part of your own organization, they're free to do their best work, unconstrained by the possibility of having actually met (or, heaven forbid, become attached to) the employees.

For anyone who thought that CEO Marissa Mayer would continue the generally people-friendly policies of her previous workplace (Google), you can kiss that goodbye. She's clearly focused on the bottom line, and if you're not riding the profitability bus to the end of the line with her, you'd best get off right now.

Mayer is clearly a business-first type of person, having returned to work as the CEO within a few weeks of giving birth. Then again, she has the resources to enable her to do so. Most of us don't have a nanny, housekeeper, errand person, personal shopper, dog walker, or other domestic staff on our payroll.

She's also shrewd enough to realize that the best way to make the bottom line look better in the near term is to cut costs. The biggest costs are usually those pesky employees. Laying them off, though, is a costly business, what with severance pay and all that paperwork. However, if you can get them all to quit on their own out of anger, frustration and resentment, it's a work of pure genious.

As a veteran of 37 years in corporate America, and veteran telecommuter, your intrepid diarist has a few ideas about this misbegotten Yahoo plan.

I began telecommuting when my 62-mile-each-way commute was getting to be a major time sink during winter weather in New England. I worked one or two days a week in the peace and quiet of my home in the country. I got plenty done, far more, in fact, than I'd get done in a typical day at the office. Without 1. the time lost commuting and 2. the time wasted with interruptions and distractions and 3. the time wasted going off site to buy lunch, I gained about three hours a day.

I was still successful. My clients, co-workers and management team could reach me any time of the day (we were banned from using cell phones while driving, so I was now accessible during that time). I invested in a robust printer/copier/scanner and good broadband service. I could listen to classical music and work in the sun-lit breakfast nook, taking calls with no background conversations or office noise. It was all good.

Later, when I had a job with extensive interaction with colleagues around the world, telecommuting made even better sense. My workday adapted to the demands of the job. I took a break for supper and a few hours, then got on calls with folks in Hong Kong, Christchurch, Perth, Shenzhen, Brisbane, and other far off places at 11:00 p.m.. I'd get up early for calls with London. Going into the office wouldn't have made any difference: these people weren't in my office. With the benefit of video teleconferencing - whether at the office or via web cams - we could achieve what we needed to achieve and feel a real connection to one another.

Maybe Yahoo's different, but I doubt it. Forcing people to traipse to the office every day won't necessarily inspire that serendipitous collaborative spark. It will, however, serve as a loud and uambiguous wake-up call to Mayer's employees that it's time to leave for more truly collaborative pastures.

Those who heed the call will typically be the more gifted, visionary, entrepreurial folks. They'll have no difficulty landing new jobs where their bright ideas, individuality and flexibility will be seen as "features" rather than "bugs." They'll be the innovators that help Yahoo's competitors continue to eat Yahoo's lunch. In the near term, Yahoo's stock price - and Mayer's reputation as a no-nonsense CEO - may do very well. Wall Street will love this "crush the little people" story. Yahoo's employees, customers and business partners will be the ones paying the price.

Those telecommuters who remain at Yahoo whether by choice or as a result of real or perceived wage-slave indenture will hardly be in a frame of mind to lead the company to new heights. At that point, an infusion of outsiders will likely be the next "fix." 

Since their new HR czarina has decreed that:

"Hiring, managing and incentivizing talent will be of key importance."

We can look forward to much more rigorous screening, indoctrination and regimentation of prospective employees. "Incentivizing" employees, though? I'd have to wonder whether telecommuting privileges aren't among the most valued incentives. Personally, I would rather forsake the next paltry salary increase or meaningless change of title and grab for the telecommuting gold.

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