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To Become 'One Yahoo,' Tech Company Bans Telecommuting

Feb 25, 2013
Originally published on February 25, 2013 7:23 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish, and it's time now for All Tech Considered.

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CORNISH: We begin today's All Tech with news that Yahoo! is ending telecommuting for its employees. The company sent out an internal memo last week, which found its way to the tech news website All Things D. The memo states: 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.

For more, NPR's digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell joins us.

Hey there, Laura.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: So how big a deal is this at Yahoo!? I understand this rule is going to go into effect in June.

SYDELL: That's right, and there has been a lot of angry chatter about this. First, I think there were people who came in taking this job because, hey, I can work from home. And now, they're being told they can't. The memo was very black and white. It doesn't sound like there's much possibility of fudging it, maybe working from home a little.

Maybe rightly or wrongly, the CEO, Marissa Mayer, who came in just this last year, is a woman who just had a baby. And some people think it's an odd move for a woman CEO to make because, you know, working at home makes it easier to manage family. So how could she do this?

CORNISH: And tell us a little bit more about Marissa Mayer, maybe what the thinking is behind this.

SYDELL: Well, Marissa is coming from Google, and she was one of the earliest employees at Google. And Google is a company that encourages people to stay there for many, many hours. They have food. They have massage. They have acupuncture. You can send out your dry cleaning. So she's probably trying to recreate a very, very successful corporate culture. And I think that's part of what's going on here.

She was also hired to turn around a struggling company, and she probably doesn't have a lot of time to do it. They've had a revolving door of CEOs, and the board is impatient. So she feels like this isn't working so well. We're going to change it.

CORNISH: And then this seems to run counter to basically everything we imagine about the workplace of the future or, frankly, the present when it comes to Silicon Valley.

SYDELL: I know. But the truth is many of the companies here encourage people to stay there: Facebook, Google, Apple. And I think, in part, it is this notion that, yes, the workplace of the future should be someplace where we all work from home. But there still is something, even among geeks, where flesh and blood, real people, real interaction matters.

CORNISH: So, Laura, what do we actually know research-wise about working from home versus the office and how that impacts productivity?

SYDELL: I spoke with Cali Williams Yost, who actually consults with companies on work-life balance. Now, she says it can be very productive to work from home, but it has to be implemented right. And from what she has read, Yahoo! actually wasn't doing a good job, so people end up feeling alienated from the company. You really have to train your managers and your people how to work best from home.

So, for example, you don't just hand somebody a laptop and say, hey, work from home. You talk to them about how to spend their time. And so I think that if Yahoo! were to invest a little more time in making it work right, that would be great.

But as I said earlier, Marissa doesn't feel like she has a lot of time. This is a board that wants results and a company that is struggling.

CORNISH: Laura Sydell is NPR's digital culture correspondent. Laura, thank you.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.