03.06.2013

The Culture (and Pros & Cons) of Working from Home

Yahoo’s recent decision to rescind its work-from-home policy and have everyone report to the office has generated a deluge of commentary in both the traditional news media and online. Opinion varies from sympathetic support and an understanding of the challenges facing a struggling Silicon Valley icon to condemnation of the move as a retrograde step and a serious setback for the rights of working women.

Mostly lost in the noise of the debate are Yahoo’s specific reasons for making the change. Since her arrival from Google in the middle of last year, Marissa Meyer, Yahoo’s CEO, has clearly been trying to change the corporate culture from that of a venerable but unexciting Internet enterprise to one with more of a start-up mentality.

The company’s leaked internal memo, which gave rise to the hullabaloo, made clear that it was more about changing a mind-set than addressing specific failings in the performance of work-from-home employees: “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.”

So does Yahoo’s decision signal the beginning of a nationwide shift in how we view working from home and telecommuting in general? That’s unlikely according to several human resource specialists and spokespersons for other large corporations.  

In a New York Times article, John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University, suggested that people who work from home are significantly more productive but less innovative. “If you want innovation, you want interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, you want people working from home.”

Ten years ago, I was in a sales position at a publishing company based on Long Island, NY. The company introduced a telecommuting policy which allowed all different levels of employees to work from home. The company provided infrastructure support to help me get my job done but I also rarely saw my colleagues and even my own team. So was something crucial sacrificed for the sake of flexibility? I don’t know.

For me, it was a very productive period of my life. Without the daily commute and the need to be behind a corporate desk, I was able to organize my time to benefit both work and family.

Although I now have a very different job, I am happy to say that I still work from home at least two days a week. FiOS high-speed Internet, a smartphone, mobile apps, cloud storage, and video chat have all combined to transform my home into a highly efficient workplace.

Working from home isn’t for everyone – some jobs require an office presence and some people are just more productive in a structured environment – but working from home even just occasionally, isn’t going to go away. Yahoo is trying to change the corporate culture by any means possible and the wisdom of that decision is still unknown.

The views expressed and materials presented herein represent the personal views of the writer and do not represent the opinion of Verizon or its subsidiaries. Monica Vila is Founder and "Chief Technology Mom" at theonlinemom.com. Follow her on Twitter @TheOnlineMom!