Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer created an avalanche of news and social buzz this week and stirred up a longstanding debate with her decree that, starting this June, Yahoo will require all employees to work from an office.
It’s the end of telecommuting at Yahoo, and it flies in the face of a trend going back 20 years or more that allows employees to work from home offices. Not just that, but as technology improves—and more workers seek non-traditional approaches to their work—the trend is accelerating.
So why is Yahoo bucking the trend? The stated belief is that face-to-face productivity is essential.
"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side," human resources head Jackie Reses said in a memo. "That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices."
The unstated reason, perhaps, is that the struggling company needs to shed unproductive, poorly managed “deadwood.”
Either way, the impact on Yahoo’s 11,000 workers is significant. But the impact on the broader society is interesting, too. And, so far, Yahoo’s communicators have got to be happy with the way the story is playing out.
Yes, some high-profile people have said Yahoo is going backwards. Yes, some workers have carped about the move and derided Yahoo. But there’s deep ambivalence on this issue.
A CNN/Money poll showed a 50-50 split on the decision from more than 15,000 people as of Tuesday afternoon. And generally, the thread of the commentary has included a few important points:
· Yahoo, a once-pioneering Internet company now struggling in a turnaround mode, did what it felt it had to do, and it did it in an open, decisive, humane manner.
· Even proponents of telecommuting acknowledge the downsides: that productivity can lag, that workers are harder to manage and that collaboration suffers.
· Other leading Silicon Valley companies have lush workplaces with perks galore for employees, all of whom work in the office.
In the end, the message for communicators from the Yahoo decision might be to act boldly, decisively and stand by the decision. Controversy today might mean a more successful company down the road—and then, everyone will say how forward thinking the move was. Except, that is, the people stuck in traffic on the 101 as they make their way to work at Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Follow Tony Silber: @tonysilber