The U.S. economy is not best understood as one large Chinese travel agency, and one Stanford study does not make an indisputable case for telecommuting. Fortunately, it is not the only case. A Cisco study found that the company saved $277 million a year by allowing employees to telecommute. One fairly skeptical survey of telecommuting studies out of California State Polytechnic University said that it was difficult "to find published materials that indicate telecommuting does not generate productivity gains, or that gains are less than 10%."
Not only is there practically no survey evidence to suggest that telecommuting reduces productivity, but also it would help companies specifically like Yahoo: media and technology firms based in major cities. Writing can be accomplished anywhere. Coding marathons are often best done in intense solitary. What's more, Yahoo has large offices in San Francisco and New York, which have two of the worst commute times in the United States. Working from homes adds hours to peoples' days that would otherwise be spent in rather less productive grindlock.
And yet ... telecommuting isn't taking over the world. The vast majority of "telecommutable" jobs aren't done at home. They're done in the office. Why?
One half of the answer is that people like working with other people. Telecommuting can be lonely and unfulfilling. But corporate policies like Mayer's are another part. Companies are jealous of their employees' time and allegiance, especially in competitive industries like media technology, and Mayer probably doesn't want to lead a massive hiring and turn-around effort while her deputies Skype in from their living rooms. It's understandable for executives to want to build an atmosphere where the office becomes a destination, a place where workers want to come together, where ideas percolate and bounce around an office and end up on a memo in the director's inbox that becomes a Hot New Thing.
But these reasonable arguments for building a dense and collaborative workplace culture should be weighed against the preponderance of statistical evidence, which suggests that (1) sometimes people just like to work from home for a change, and (2) they're really good at it. In reaching to build a new culture in a new Yahoo, Mayer might be alienating the most brilliantly independent-minded employees just because they value flexibility and Yahoo doesn't.
YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION -- DO NOT FORWARD
Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great
benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With
the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want
everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive
momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing -- I think
we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.
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.
Beginning in June, we're asking all employees with work-from-home
arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your
management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest
of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use
your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn't
just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and
experiences that are only possible in our offices.
Thanks to all of you, we've already made remarkable progress as a company -- and the best is yet to come.