Should all staff members work in the office? Yahoo thinks so

Yahoo's CEO, Marissa Mayer, recently sent out a memo to Yahoo staff members telling them that by June they'll be required to work at a Yahoo office rather than from home. Will the law of unintended consequences hurt Yahoo because of this move? I think so.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

During my morning news scan, I came across an article, "Yahoo Ban on Employees Working From Home a Risky Move: Analysts," authored by a long-time friend, Todd Weiss and thought it was a good analysis of Marissa Mayer's, Yahoo CEO, recent move to make all Yahoo staff work from one of Yahoo's offices. Her memo told Yahoo staff that working from home will no longer be allowed after June.

While this rather extreme, counter tech culture move might be a seen as a tool for forcing staff to work together, I think that law of unintended consequences will come into play and high-performing staff will move elsewhere rather than moving to San Francisco to work in a Yahoo corporate office.

I've been a telecommuter for nearly two decades. While at IDC and the 451 Group, many of my coworkers worked remotely and visited the office only when needed. We often won awards for productivity and, yet, were available to support sales, customers and other staff members when needed. Some of my colleagues chose to relocate to places that were close to family or to places they loved.

The physical distance between members of my staff seldom got in the way of collaboration because tools where put in place.  Staff meetings were conducted regularly using audio and video conferencing. Collaborative applications allowed staff to share documents, spreadsheets and presentation decks. Physical meetings where scheduled when we were all attending the same event or conference. If anything, staff appeared to work more hours and were more productive because they were able to focus on accomplishing their goals rather than spending hours fighting traffic and finding parking spaces.

Let's look at a few of the unintended consequences of Ms Mayer's move:

  • It may become difficult for Yahoo to attract the very best employees because these people may not wish to work in San Francisco or other cities in which Yahoo has an office. If that is an issue for a potential staff member, they'll simply find positions elsewhere at companies that are more flexible.
  • Staff who work from home to care for elderly or ill family members may find that impossible when forced to move away to be in a Yahoo office. They may be unwilling or unable to make that move.
  • Remote employees may not wish to spend a measurable part of their day commuting. Traffic in the greater San Francisco area or other large cities can become quite a problem to those used to a 15-step commute.
  • Remote employees may be facing the sale of a home in a low-cost area and then the pain of finding similar accommodations in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. When they see that their standard of living is going to decline dramatically, they may simply choose not to go. Furthermore, unless Yahoo is going to help with moving expenses and expenses related to the sale of a home, remote staff members are going to experience negative consequences of Yahoo's move.

While I understand the desire to make teams work together in a more cohesive fashion, just telling people who already work elsewhere that they're going to have to pick up and move to keep their job is not likely to build the harmony Ms. Mayer is seeking.

I guess we're all going to get to see the impact of this "grand social experiment" Yahoo has undertaken. 

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