Memo to Yahoo – flexible workers are more productive

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flexible workYahoo’s Marissa Mayer made headlines this week by banning Yahoo! employees from working from home.  Traditionally negative feelings around flexible working involve perceptions that folks working from home don’t actually get an awful lot of work done.  Mayer however has said that she’s banning flexible working because she simply wants employees in the office more often.  An internal memo spells out the thinking (albeit briefly)

Yahoos,

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.

Jackie

So the feeling is that they want to prompt the kind of informal discussions and serendipitous meetings that being confined in a single building encourages.  The thing is, with social tools, collaborations can easily occur virtually.  Presumably Yahoo! aren’t suggesting that there will be no inter-office collaboration because they’re not all located on the same premises, so why can this innovative work not be done virtually?

Flexible work often equals more work

A Stanford study conducted last year proved this point.   The researchers wanted to test how productive flexible workers were in comparison to their office bound colleagues.  They recruited 255 volunteers from a pool of call centre staff.  Half of them were assigned to work from home, with all of the technology needed to do that provided for them, whilst the other half continued to work from the office as usual.

They then ran the experiment for a nine month period to ascertain whether home or office based working was best.  The results are fascinating.  The home workers achieved a number of significant wins.

  1. They were available to field calls for more minutes each day because they took fewer breaks
  2. They took fewer sick days over the 9 month period
  3. They fielded more calls per hour because their quiet home environment allowed them to solve customer queries more efficiently.
  4. They reported higher job satisfaction
  5. They were less likely to quit their job

Show me the money

All of which sounds great, but does that translate into cold, hard cash?  You betcha.  The researchers totted up the results from each participant and found that for each home worker, the following financial benefits were seen:

  • Higher performance was worth $375
  • Savings in office rental space was worth $1,250
  • Reductions in staff turnover and training of new staff was worth $400

So all told there were savings or benefits of over $2,000 over the 9 month period.  To put that into context, the average salary of each employee over the same period was $3,000.  Pretty impressive isn’t it?

What’s more, the researchers believed that over time, these savings would increase.  After the experiment was completed the employer allowed anyone that didn’t enjoy working from home to come back into the office, whilst any office bound employee that wanted to work from home was allowed to do so.  So a kind of natural selection took place.  The researchers found that the people that gave up on working from home were actually amongst the least productive, so once the natural filtering process had taken place the results could look even better.

In the book Future Work the authors use a case study from IBM where they believe working remotely can save the average employee 16.5 hours of wasted time per week.  With studies like this, and the one covered above from Stanford, it seems something of a no brainer.  The social business technology certainly exists to support the revolution in how we work.  All we need is for attitudes to join us in the 21st century.

So far Yahoo have largely failed to build anything successful in the social space, and perhaps this lack of belief in the capabilities of the social tools available goes some way to suggesting why that is.

11 thoughts on “Memo to Yahoo – flexible workers are more productive

  1. In my experience it doesn't matter what gender a person is: reaching the highest level of management in a corporate structure causes people to become ruthless, self-centered snakes who completely forget what it is like to have to do an office job without all the corporate perks and cushions. The real problem here is the cult of personality that corporations build around the people who engage in the right office politics to become senior management. They all start believing their own myths' at a certain point and that's when they decide the "lesser staff" don't matter..

  2. As someone that's worked in software companies for 25 years I have very mixed feelings about working from home, and for certain positions it just doesn't work. Most problems and big design questions were resolved by small groups of people in a room with a blackboard and a terminal. The people that "joined" on the phone tended to get distracted an then ignored by the people in the room.

    People working remotely tended to be the ones coding from spec or writing the tech documents. And as a former boss used to say, if that can be done remotely, lets go whole hog and have it done in Bangalore. Much cheaper.

  3. It is not the responsibility of an employer to create a better environment for families..that is the responsibility you take on when having a family. I am looking forward to all the great job openings at Yahoo coming in June. She is making a great move to drop the entitled dead weight without wasting time and resources on reviewing the production levels of each individual. Come to the office if you want the job, if you think you are special then stay home and find a new paycheck…should be easy if you are really that special.

    • Amen. I am so tired of people with kids thinking they should have special treatment. YOU chose to have a child, YOU deal with the responsibility. This isn't Yahoo's responsibility

  4. Some people just enjoy ruling by diktat and it's 'do what I say, not what I do' – Their rules will not apply to them, obviously.

  5. In my experience it is invariably the managers who are the ones working from home. More junior staff don't get the opportunity. So who knows, maybe the management will be forced to stop speaking among themselves and actually manage the people they're responsible for. You never know, they may learn a thing or two.

  6. Studies may show that remote working is more productive but no-one has measured how it performs in a firm where the morale of the workforce is low, productivity is down and the prospects do not look good.

    It may work extremely well where workers are highly motivated, there is a clear sense of direction and sense of corporate pride. But I don't think Yahoo is in that place and I'd argue that they probably do need to take these steps to revitalise their staff and stiffen discipline. Lack of motivation is a close cousin of slacking off.

    It may not be the solution to their problems but as part of a program of productivity improvements and innovation it has its place.

  7. Mayer was a hands-on developer. She must know that coding/designing with no interruptions boosts productivity by at least 30%.

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