Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yahoo’s work-from-home policy: My two cents

Marissa Mayer, the charismatic CEO of Yahoo seems to be stirring up a hornet's nest with the recent “work from home” policy at Yahoo (Yahoo Says New Policy Is Meant to Raise Morale). Media and bloggers have not only been speculating on the move by tech giant but also the wider implications.

The big question managers and technologists are asking: If a tech giant based in Silicon Valley can reverse course on telecommuting, will it ever be a prevalent policy in corporate America?

Telecommuting policies in corporate world really took off in America few years ago when the cost of gasoline spiked above $4 a gallon. Rather than raise salaries to compensate for rising cost of commuting, companies began experimenting with variances of the policies, allowing telecommute once a week, limited telecommute to employees on a need basis, and in some cases adopting “honor system:” expecting employees to be judicious while availing the privilege.

Of course, in consulting world, telecommuting is much more prevalent. In my days of EA consulting, I would periodically travel to client locations for engagements. Many of the statement of work (contracts) would call out billing for 40 hours a week. Though I was a consultant, I was salaried /exempt employee with no paid overtime. Work done outside client billing hours for my employer (e.g pre sales proposal work) would get me brownie points from my boss and peers, nothing more. The biggest perk in that job was the fact that I could telecommute from home between engagements and go in to the local office of my employer only for administrative work or some internal meetings.

I now live in the East Coast, US and routinely take early morning meetings from my home office to accommodate colleagues in Basel, Switzerland, and vendor/partner folks based offshore in India. No big deal. I sometimes come in late to work or leave early in the evenings not to “compensate” for time but to balance out personal chores, or run errands which I might have done during the time when I take my morning calls. This is not unique to my job or role.

Do I benefit from face-to-face meetings and whiteboarding? Sure! Do hallway and water cooler conversations with colleagues enrich my job experience? Absolutely! Would I be constrained by a policy that dictated that all my work had to be done in the office?

I guess we all recognize that working efficiently is not just about doing the “40 hours” in the office, but delivering on expected goals and targets. With many, if not most IT professionals increasingly working in globalized teams spanning time zones, attending meetings during “non business hours” is more a norm than exception. Policies that eliminate or regulate telecommuting and work-from home may end up being counterproductive.

Links
  • Yahoo Says New Policy Is Meant to Raise Morale - NY Times
  • Yahoo’s perplexing work-from-home ban - Washington Post
  • Why Won't Yahoo! Let Employees Work From Home? - BusinessWeek