Why Yahoo’s telecommuting ban is still bad for business

Last week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was interviewed at the Wired Business Conference on a range of topics, but the question on everyone’s mind (including interviewer Steven Levy) was her impossibly unpopular edict against telecommuting.

I surely don’t have to rehash what happened when Mayer enacted the New Law against working from home. It was eventually reported that she allegedly caught wind of it when she determined people weren’t logged into the company VPN for enough hours of the day to be “working.” The backlash has sparked a furious debate on the merits of WFH, and whether Mayer has it right or is simply another victim of CEO paranoia, convinced her employees are “ripping her off” by slacking when they should be grinding out work at their desks.

Last week Mayer attempted to clarify her position, arguing that it had been misinterpreted and that Yahoos can still work from home, provided it is at night or on the weekend. (Hey, thanks!) She then gave an example of how a new mobile app called Yahoo Weather (it tells you the weather) came to be. Yahoo’s newly collaborative environment, she said, made it possible for someone from the Weather team and someone from the Flickr team to encounter one another serendipitously on the Yahoo campus. And that’s the magic of how the app came to be.

But the most important thing Mayer said is that she isn’t particularly against telecommuting, just that it is “not right for us, right now.” She has a point. Telecommuting doesn’t work for 100 percent of companies 100 percent of the time, but the positioning is a little ironic given Mayer’s earlier decisions as CEO. As one of her first orders of business last year, she gave every employee a new smartphone. In her announcement to staff, she explained the generosity saying, “We’d like our employees to have devices similar to our users, so we can think and work as the majority of our users do.”

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