Yahoo and Moms Gone Wild - How Will Shareholders Respond?

On February 24, I blogged about Yahoo's just-issued memo to employees. The message from the top is to get your shoes on and be seen in the office. See "What Companies Are Doing About Working at Home."

Jump ahead a few days later and mom blogs are chockablock with negative comments. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and Joan Blades, co-founders of MomsRising, issued a press release that denigrates the decision to ban telecommuting. They go on to describe the role of female workers as critical to the majority of families that require two incomes to pay bills. Their primary argument is that talented workers will go elsewhere in search of flexibility and a chance to stay on the fast track without being forced to sacrifice time with family. (Elsewhere, some suggest that Yahoo may have designed this pseudo layoff without having to officially let go of people.) Direct from Cafe Mom Studios, Amy Boshnack asks lots of women for their two cents. "Backward" was one mother's description of the new policy, especially for a technology company. Several women said that they understood the need for in-person brain storming but said that commuting four or five hours a day from a rural location is neither realistic nor productive for those individuals who live far away. Click to view the video discussion on cafemom.com.

Moms are not alone in their dissent. NBC News reports that some might interpret this edict as "anti-parent." Others counter that mothers and fathers could win by being forced to accept a more traditional schedule in the office since telecommuting arguably encourages "creep" with emails and phone calls occurring well after 5 pm. Founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, decries the move as "perplexing" and not compatible with a well-connected labor force and a modern work day that no longer spans 9 to 5. See "Give people the freedom of where to work" by Richard Branson (February 25, 2013).

In the end, the decision will likely be deemed successful (or not) if it makes it easier for the company to go where the CEO, Marissa Meyer, and other Yahoo board members want to be. There are numerous moving parts. Indicting this or any other policy per se is hard. One must consider (1) job descriptions and the need for on-site dealings (2) the economics of working together face to face versus the cost savings of having fewer and/or smaller offices (3) strategic objectives of the firm (4) company morale and much more.

My prediction is that we will see a lawsuit or two for any workers who were contractually allowed some latitude with respect to how, when and where they work. If that occurs, the cost of a lawsuit(s) will not be welcome news to the 71% of institutional and mutual fund owners of Yahoo (ticker is YHOO) stock.

What Companies Are Doing About Working at Home

According to All Things Digital, uber technology journalist Kara Swisher writes that Yahoo is calling remote employees back to the office. Should they say "no," they are invited to consider employment elsewhere. You can read her February 22, 2013 article by clicking on "Yahoo CEO Mayer Now Requiring Remote Employee to Not Be (Remote)." Click to read the original Yahoo memo that emphasizes the need for the kind of communication and collaboration that allegedly disappears when the work force is scattered throughout the world.

While the official text is interesting, a read of the 172 comments (as of February 24, 2013) are telling. Some suggest that Yahoo is likely to send talent packing at a time when smart and productive people are needed. Besides the fact that certain employees may have been promised a work-at-home arrangement and are not happy about a reverse decision, others may simply find it prohibitively expensive to live closer to Yahoo headquarters or too time-consuming to commute several hours each way from places where real estate is more affordable. At a certain point, individuals could be better off making less money in exchange for a shorter commute. Ask anyone who has regularly traveled into New York City or other cities for many years. A daily dose of driving, training and walking for three to five hours round trip can take its toll. Others offer that professionals who are well suited for telecommuting because they like freedom and flexibility will bristle at the structure of having to show up in person. Then there is the argument that telecommuting enhances productivity, especially if it means that a quiet home versus a noisy office allows for fewer interruptions to one's work flow and facilitates the kind of concentration required for complex problem-solving.

It will be interesting to monitor whether Yahoo's new policy to work on site at one of its locations pays off for shareholders. It certainly seems to differ from what I am hearing in the workplace. In the last few months alone, executives from two major insurance companies told me that many of their employees are being forced to telecommute and that physical offices will be replaced with a hotelling arrangement for days when they travel to a company location.

Unlike Yahoo, the message being sent by those who advocate telecommuting is to leave those family photos at home. Use technology to shave off "bricks and mortar" expenses and take a coffee break on your own time.