Why Yahoo's 'no home working' rule will lead us back into the office

Why Yahoo's 'no home working' rule will lead us back into the office

Summary: Yahoo wants its staff to work in the office, innovating and collaborating face to face instead of working from home. What's wrong with that?


This week, the news surfaced that Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer wants the staff to come into the office and stop working from home. The news has not gone down well with workers at Yahoo.

(Image: Ragesoss)

AllThingsD published the text of the memo a few days ago:

Yahoo proprietary and confidential information — do not forward


Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient, and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals, and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.

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.

Beginning in June, we're asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn't just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we've already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.


I often work from home and see nothing wrong with the memo. If a company is paying me for my time, then it should be able to see me in the office on a regular basis. Yahoo wants its workers to collaborate face to face. There is nothing wrong with that

I get energised and fired up with ideas and new ways to do things when I am working in a team environment. It is much better than trying to innovate whilst being isolated from the rest of the group.

Google has advocated working face to face at its offices for a long time — and with free food for staff and their guests, laundry service, comfy seating areas, games, and other amenities, Googlers are often reluctant to go home.

Yahoo ex- employees have said that the work-from-home culture led to people "slacking off like crazy". And Yahoo will know who these people are.

Yahoo's internal IT team will have a really good view on what workers are doing on a day-to-day basis. Internal IT will have logs detailing what internet activities employees are doing, what sites they visit, and how long they spend on each site, such as Facebook or Google.

Sophisticated monitoring might even show what search terms are being used for searches on Bing or Google, and how much time is spent on each search engine, as well as which locations prefer which search engines.

If you are angry about this "intrusion" into your private life, go and read your terms of employment.

If you are accessing the internet from a company-owned machine, through the company proxy servers, then the company has a right to check your activities.

Remote working — once in a while — can be productive. But it can lead to a sense of isolation and feeling excluded from daily goings on.

Working in an office brings a much stronger sense of "belonging" and community than working remotely — even for one day a week. It can significantly increase the development of new ideas and innovation.

I have done both types of working, and much prefer the face-to-face bonding I get from working in an office with my team.

If Mayer wants to turn around the fortunes of Yahoo and become "the absolute best place to work", then Yahoos need to collaborate with each other — in person. Andrew Nusca, my ZDNet colleague, is right when he says that Mayer's goal is to "crush complacency in an 18-year-old internet company without an identity".

If you are working from home today, can you honestly say that you have not been complacent at some point during the day?

Are you sitting in your slouchy clothes, wandering away from the computer more often than you should to do home chores?

Or are you positively contributing to the company's success? If more companies looked at their internet activity logs, would we see more edicts to return to face-to-face, more productive working?

Perhaps the workers who are complaining the loudest are the ones who should take a long, hard look at just how much work they actually do.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • What happened to being green, and other issues...

    It depends on where you live. For example, telcommuting in the Northeast makes a lot of sense, due to weather, bad roads, tolls, traffic jams, high car insurance, and just the sheer amount of time wasted traveling each day instead of working.
    • What happened to moving to where you work?

      That is the big question. It used to be when you got a new job that was geo-graphically different than your current location, the solution was simple. You moved. We now live in an entitled society believing it is more important for companies to bend over backward to allow employees to live where they want. I have worked with many people frustrated over spending 4-5 hours/day in a car commuting but refuse to look for residences closer to work. That is their choice.

      Sometimes remote work works. Other times it does not. Sometimes, it is simply broken and you have to get rid of it and start over.
      • People cannot always afford to move closer

        People cannot always afford to move closer because they are tied to a mortgage on their current house, cannot afford to buy a home close to work and/or there are no jobs where they live etc.
        I don't think it is always about entitlement. Sometimes to attract talent you need to offer something besides money because you may not be able to pay them more and sometimes time is worth more than money for these people. Anyways at the end of the day Marissa can create any rules she wants and it will be up to the employee to decide if that is the environment they want to work in. I already know of a few talented coders at Yahoo! that are looking at new jobs. They don't want to WFH every day but a few days are important as they have kids and want to be able to take them to school or pick them up some of the days.
        • But talent at Yahoo! does not seem very strong.

          As a company, they have been languishing for years. I know people that "worked from home" at Yahoo! and I would say they did not put forth huge amounts of effort; I knew them from a coffee hangout I used to go to. I would watch them play cards for 1-2 hours (I am half retired) and they were supposed to be "managers". My thought was, I am glad I was not paying these people.

          So while it may have been working for some, I bet the work at home at Yahoo! is very broken. Yahoo! may loose a few good employees, they might loose several sub-standard employees; most will adapt.

          And yes, it sometimes a hardship to move. Housing might be an issue either through refinancing like many have done or having recently moved in the last 6 years. There are desires to not to leave friends. You might no want to pull your kids out of a school.

          But at the end of the day, you have to make a decision. If, due to massive mis-abuse in the past, a nice feature is lost to all, that is how it rolls.
          • The company is languishing because it lacks direction.

            It's my opinion Yahoo's problems aren't that the rank and file are unproductive but rather senior management hasn't decided what the company should be. Until that happens where the rank and file work is irrelevant.
          • And that is what is happening.

            You are very correct that it is time for senior management to step up their game and make some serious changes. And you are seeing what they have decided to do to make yahoo better.
          • This is not going to help Yahoo.

            IMO the problem is not unproductive workers. The problem is Yahoo has no direction. No idea what they're going to be and how they'll translate that into making a profit. Until they do that whether the workers are present in the office or not is irrelevant.
          • Exactly right

            "Collaborating in person' implies that management cares in the slightest about what employees actually conclude after collaborating. My sense of Yahoo is that they are exactly the opposite of what a company driven by employee innovation and collaboration looks like. This isn't a message of empowerment; no matter how many times they use 'collaborate' in the memo, I don't believe for a second that this is anything but a pretty spin on "Get back to work you slackers!"
          • Definitely right

            And if "Get back to work you slackers!" is what it is, then it sounds like the right thing to do.
          • empoyees are at fault too

            Yahoo is in a unique position. They basically gave up for a few years. Seriously, when they sold off their search business to MS, thats a pretty clear signal that the company was going to die. People who were good abandoned ship and went to work where they can be productive.

            I don't doubt that there are a whooole lot of people who remained at yahoo because they're the "do the minimum" type employee riding it out until the end comes. Every year it felt that way at yahoo. Look at the revolving CEO door.

            If I see this then I am sure current management sees this and is one of their way of weeding out those just sucking up resources and those who can still be productive. I suspect when the company is strong again, they'll roll out telecommuting again.

            I personally, have a problem with many telecommuters where I am. They clearly are not "working". They miss meetings 90% of the time. They never answer emails right away unlike when they are in the office. Their phone goes to voice mail 50% of the time. Management obviously needs 50% of the blame here. But lets not make it sound like "oh because management doesn't know what direction to take its ok for employees to be slackers because they're not at fault".
          • Telecommuting

            I have been full time work-at-home since 1994. I sometimes have voicemail pick up when I've gone to warm up the coffee which no longer keeps me alert, but I still don't like cold coffee. Or I've taken 5 minutes to walk to the street and pick up the mail. Or, SHOCKING, take 1/2 an hour for lunch, and later maybe 90 minutes to eat dinner and watch the news. I also actually WORK 50-65 hours a week, every week, minimally 9 weeks out of 10. The other week, it's maybe only 45 hours. I've been on salary since 1972. They are getting their money's worth. But I need some moments of actual life, midst the work. So, if I can't be "in their face" (i.e. working In The Office) at a meeting, and that's a problem, they should grow up. I've been doing this for 43 years (software development, mostly for vendors) and I think I'm good at it. I'm over 100 miles from the nearest 'company' office, and there's NOBODY in that office working in my subject area. I'm 350 miles from some of those people, and half-a-globe away from some of the others. We work well together, I think, though sometimes just scheduling a meeting is a challenge. It's not WHERE you work, it's HOW you work. If you're adult about it, you're not spending the day on Facebook and calling it work. But (if you're not in a meeting), you might do something else for a couple of minutes (see above) to regain your concentration. The 10-12 hours a day I might work probably takes me 15 hours to accomplish. But I fit "a little life" in occasionally to regain my sanity.
      • That strategy made sense

        When you could pretty much guarantee ten years at the job, but jobs are much more volatile these days.
        • Sometime working from home is the only way to avoid meetings

          I know people who spend almost entire time in the meetings without any time left to do real job, so when they work from home, they're at the top of productivity.

          If most companies would use Agile-style stand-up 30 min. meetings, that would be nice, but that's not something we have...
          Tomas M.
          • In-Office time = Non-Productive time

            I'm sorry, but in the world of programming and knowledge workers, office time means getting nothing done.

            I work from home half the week, and while I realize the need to make the hour trip into the office, when I do that I waist 2 hours of productivity, in addition the the fact that I spend most of my time in the office "innovating", er, I mean in meetings.

            When I'm at home in my "slouchy" clothes, I'm free to concentrate on the TASK. My work hours often fluctuate, and I do often take some breaks to take a walk and think. So I spend a little more time with my family in the morning, then work on my assignments in the afternoon/evening.

            I work part time hours, mostly from home, and I get twice as much done as those in my office that work full time hours. I contrast this with my previous job, where they required me in the office, monitored my activities, and had us all sitting side-by-side in a room with no windows. It was occasionally invigorating, but mostly it became a bore and drudgery, and the team as a whole eventually disintegrated.

            So, NO, working in the office, in the long term, is not very productive for programmers/knowledge workers. Give them flexibility of their time, require OCCASIONAL in-office time, and you'll find their productivity and desire to help the company blossom.
            Technical John
          • Waist does not equal Waste

            Tech John, how do you waste 2 hours of productivity? From the company's point of view that is your time and not their time. The 2 hours should not come out of your "work" day. Not saying that a 2 hour commute is good, just point out that it should not be considered work.
          • What about work/life balance?

            Corman, studies show that good employees who work from home spend more time on the job, on average, than their in-office counterparts. In that sense, the two hours in the car is wasted time.

            And it's not a question of whether you classify it "work" time "personal" time. Both are important and sitting in a care for two hours a day is a waste of time AND resources.
          • Work time or personal time.

            Yes it is a question of how you classify the time. If it is work time it is a waste of rescources. If it is your time it is a waste of personal time and that is your problem. Move closer to work. Also they do not spend more time on the job, they spend different hours on the job, so they have more free time to do what they want when they want. i.e. I will work 7-9 tonight because I want to go to a movie with my kids this afternoon. You personal pleasure took priority over your job. Work also intails a factor called timeliness. If you miss a deadline you screw up others - but if you are not there you do not have to face them.
          • If you're requiring

            someone who previously worked from home, UNDER contract, to drive two hours to go to the office, you should either 1) pay them for that time, extra, or 2) take that time away from their 40 hours or whatever that they're required to be at the office, inotherwords, if they work 5 days per week and live two hours away, and have to now drive 4 hours a day, you are going to be either paying them for 60 hours, to be in the office for 40 hours, OR you will pay them for 40 hours to be in the office for only 20 hours. It is not fair to the employee otherwise, who could just as easily get a job somewhere else, either working from home as usual, or, only driving a few minutes to work. IF you are going to now require that person to come to the office and think the sensible thing for them to do is move closer to the office, I suggest that you purchase them housing within minutes of their office, and allow them to keep their HOMES for weekends. This is not cost effective for Yahoo. If they simply want to lay off 100% of their employees they'd save a lot of money, start at the top with this person from Google, and shut down. They would then have no expenses AT ALL to make, and could concentrate on NOT DOING anything, as they have done for years. (What exactly does Yahoo do, anyway? Free email servers, and what else? Nothing comes to mind.
    • would only apply if

      MS made this decision. Then we would hear all about how Ballmer hates the environment, working mothers, etc.
      • My, aren't we testy

        It used to be the anti-MS posters who were accused of whining, but that appears to have completely gone the other way.

        There are people who don't like MS and go out of their way to avoid doing business with MS. MS can modify its policies in an effort to address the suspicion and mistrust; they can write it off as part of the cost of doing business the way they think it needs to be done (as Bill Gates did); or they can try to make up for it with PR campaigns, but complaining about it was ridiculous when Steve Ballmer did it in his "shocked and amazed" speech (at which point I lost all respect for him) and is ridiculous now.

        Do something about it or not, but don't whine. People have the right to not like MS.
        John L. Ries