When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced in February that the company would no longer allow employees to work from home, it launched a media storm. Actually, it launched several media storms and the story became whatever anyone seemed to want to make it. Here’s part of what she said:
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.
Mayer was attacked for stifling innovation. She was attacked for being a woman and making a decision that would negatively impact ‘her’ gender. She was defended for being a woman and unfairly maligned for making a bold decision a man would not be criticized for. Some saw it as the nail in the coffin for a company struggling to find its was in a Google dominated world. Others saw it as the death knell for their own sweet gig working their PJs.
But what about the actual trend of working from home? Or what about contract working? While the discussion of working from home vs. the office is often subjective and emotional, it actually can be a very practical dollars and cents discussion. Being under one roof implies that every member of a team must be employed full time. That can dramatically increate overhead and make an organization less nimble.
Furthermore, by placing so much value in ‘face time’ you magnify the value of being an employee (as opposed to a contractor.) In other words, in trying to solve a problem, or accomplish a task, your team may ask for a new hire as opposed to a budget to hire a freelancer. That’s usually not a great financial choice since many of the costs (benefits, payroll taxes, etc.) are hidden from budgets but still impact the bottom line.
Should you allow people to work from home or should you follow the path of Mayer? The best idea is to create a culture that asks people to measure their value against the goals of the company. Are we able to achieve our long term goals with a policy of flexibility or not?
By focusing on goals, your decision is rooted firmly in what will do the company the most good. This focus also helps employees decided for themselves if working from home is a good decision that will help the company achieve greatness.