Yahoo recently decided to cut back on its policy of permitting employees to work remotely, hoping to increase employee collaboration. Yahoo’s Director of HR explains: “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.”
Based upon press reports, one of the major challenges that Yahoo faces is a relative lack of employee productivity compared to industry rivals such as Google. Certainly there are means to facilitate communication amongst remote co-workers, and we are all aware of anecdotal data where this has been quite successful. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to extrapolate from the success or failure of “work from home” policies when there are significant differences in things like organizational culture and the position in question. For example, some businesses have been impressed by the increased productivity (coupled with decreased overhead costs) when they moved to remote workforce arrangements, especially in the case of call center employees. In contrast, though, Zappos moved away from remote call center agents in order to increase the probability of employees engaging in random encounters with each other with the hope this will increase a sense of shared culture. In order to do so, they have gone so far as to decrease the size of the work area and funnel all employees through the same exit doors in order to encourage spontaneous interactions.
It will be interesting to see how this new policy plays out with Yahoo. While it seems to run counter to some trends in Silicon Valley, different businesses have different needs, and the Yahoo management team, like any organization that implements a major change in personnel policy, will need to collect good metrics to see if this brings about the hoped-for changes in organizational culture.