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“Working from Home: Use Mobile When Justified”

When I listened to all the stories in the news (opens in new tab) towards the end of February (opens in new tab) about Yahoo now requiring everyone to work in the office and not ever – ever – work from home, my mouth dropped open as in “Are you kidding me?” Certainly, this must have been a joke or a mistake. The company can’t be serious. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Here’s what I think Marissa Meyer, CEO, should say in a clarifying memo to Yahoo employees. I want to emphasize that this is hypothetical and simply what I would do if I were in her shoes.

Hypothetical Memo to All Yahoo Employees

From: Marissa Mayer (CEO)

To: All Yahoo Employees

Subject: Working from Home (Revised)

Date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All of you recently received a memo from Jackie Reses, head of HR concerning the issue of time spent in the office or working from home. I want to clarify some things for each of you since there’s been so much national press about our decision to have employees spend more time in the office rather than just working from home.

First, let me set the record straight. We are not requiring all employees to work in the office all the time with no exceptions. Of course, that just isn’t reasonable or practical. We know that parents have to occasionally take care of sick children or attend a parent-teacher meeting at the child’s school. Or, sometimes an employee’s childcare worker becomes ill and can’t take care of the employee’s children for a short period of time. This affects both male and female employees who are parents.

There are also cases of bereavement leave where employees have to travel to take care of funeral and family matters when there’s a death of someone in their direct family. Professor John Sullivan of San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm has conducted studies that show that people who work at home are significantly more productive and those who work together in the office or significantly more innovative and creative.

It should be intuitively obvious that working at home all the time isn’t good because there’s no in-person interaction with others in the office. You might be very productive, but the company will lose out on innovation and creativity that comes from working with others. Video conference calls help but in-office interaction & innovation often doesn’t come just from meetings, but it also comes from talking with other co-workers randomly during the day.

Also, having a policy that you have to work in the office all the time could lead to stagnant productivity. Sometimes, you really need to concentrate and get some things done that you can’t do in the office with lots of interruptions. Many of you occasionally have deadlines and the only way to meet them is to work quietly at home.

So, extremes regarding where you work clearly aren’t good for you or the company. The reason I had Jackie Reses issue the recent memorandum was that Yahoo had become almost a virtual company with the culture being one of ‘everyone works from home whenever they want.’ Even worse, some misused working at home as a way to start another company. We needed to change the culture to focus on innovation and creativity. That requires our culture to become more "office centric" than "home centric."

I want each of you to know how proud I am of all you’re doing to help Yahoo become a great company doing new things that result in millions of people enjoying and benefiting from the information and services we provide. We want to swing the pendulum from being "home centric" to "office centric" but still provide approval of work-at-home in justifiable situations.

Therefore, I’m asking every manager in the company to review the work requirements for each employee reporting to them. Consider their personal situation. Help them spend more time in the office and when that’s not possible, let’s utilize mobile technologies to enable them to participate in meetings and even video chat sessions with co-workers. And, if there are options for taking care of personal things like setting up cable TV or phone service, please try to do them early or late in the day or on the weekends.

Together, we are going to continue to make Yahoo a great company as measured both by our customers and employees.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D is Principal Analyst, Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. MobileTrax is a leading market research firm that focuses on the mobile and wireless market. The firm publishes Inside Mobile weekly that is read by over 130,000 people.