Huh? Yahoo puts kibosh on employee telecommuting

Does communication and idea exchange suffer when team members are physically separated? Or does today's technology make location irrelevant?

Apparently, Franklin M. Hart Jr. has come out of retirement, and is back on the job at Yahoo.

Hart, the fictional boss played by Dabney Coleman in the classic movie 9 to 5, didn't believe in fancy-shmancy workplace productivity programs -- just chain 'em to their desks and crack the whip.

Incredibly, Yahoo, the epitome of the 21st-century, digital-driven company, has decided they, too, want to see employees back at their desks at all times. Last week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer issued a new rule that essentially scraps the company's telecommuting policy, effective June of this year.

Kara Swisher of AllThingsD broke the story with a leaked memo, and apparently, the decree extends to even those employees who work at home a couple of days a week. The memo points to the serendipity factor, and the potential flow of ideas that may be lost when people are physically separated while they work:

"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."

While the serendipity argument does have a ring of truth to it, Yahoo is swimming against the tide. Many companies now work with highly distributed workforces. The reasons tend to be more practical than simply being a feel-good workplace policy: it's often the best way to recruit the best talent, it saves on relocation costs, and it saves on real-estate costs. Even the U.S. government has an active telecommuting policy.

In a digital enterprise -- especially one such as Yahoo -- it doesn't matter where team members are based, whether they're in the next cubicle or in a harbor-side apartment in Hong Kong.

As Daniel Newman puts it: "Beyond that, technology has provided the opportunity for companies to hire the best people no matter where they are in the world. This is because the technology available today allows us to see, hear and share our thoughts and ideas in real time. There is no need to commune around the water cooler and certainly no reason to make thousands more people sit in rush hour traffic to report to their cubicle."

Does it make sense to have everyone together in one place to exchange ideas? Or is it counter-productive to end or reduce telecommuting arrangements?

(Photo credit: Michael Krigsman.)

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