Yahoo Preventing Its Employees From Telecommuting Makes No Sense

Our guest blogger is Jane Farrell, a research assistant for economic policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

When Marissa Mayer became the first ever pregnant CEO of a fortune 500 company, there was hope that her perspective as a new mom would highlight the importance of parental leave and workplace flexibility for families and for businesses. But when she said she’d work remotely during her “few short weeks” of maternity leave and, later, that she didn’t consider herself a feminist, there was some cause for concern about whether she would strive to improve workplace policies.

Now that her company has eliminated its work-from-home options for thousands of its employees, requiring them to instead work in Yahoo! offices or leave the company entirely, many of her admirers and employees are feeling disappointed and angry.

Yahoo! announced this new plan last Friday, claiming that in order “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.” This means that employees who telecommuted full-time, along with those who just worked remotely one or two days per week, will now need to be at a Yahoo! office every day, without exception.

While there is something to be said for fostering a creative and collaborative workplace, Mayer is ignoring myriad studies showing the benefits of telecommuting and workplace flexibility, possibly to the detriment of her company. She’s also neglecting to consider how Americans are increasingly reliant on two working parents to support families, meaning that every hour saved on commuting time is an hour they can spend programming for Yahoo! and not worrying about leaving the office in time to meet their children at the bus stop.

Many of the most successful companies in Silicon Valley recognize how time-intensive tasks like housekeeping and laundry can be, so they offer those services to their employees for free. At Facebook, companies help cover childcare expenses and even let families eat at their cafeterias. While Yahoo!’s given all of its employees iPhone 5’s, there’s only so much Siri can do when it comes to doing the dishes, walking the dog, or changing a diaper.

If Mayer’s concern was really about employees not doing their work and still getting paid, the appropriate course of action would have been to let them go. By implementing this sweeping policy without consideration for workers who need work-from-home policies to be the best employees – and caregivers – they can be, she is risking losing talented employees (and having to face the high costs associated with replacing them) and generating resentment within the company. Mayer’s lack of vision is truly a letdown for workers everywhere.