Yahoo is wrong: Working from home is productive

Closeup of guy working on a laptop indoor iStockphoto

(MoneyWatch) Tech sites are a-tizzy over the leaked internal Yahoo! memo announcing that employees had to stop working from home come summer. The stated reason is that great interactions come from being in the same space, and that having everyone on site makes for "one Yahoo!".

Opinion is mixed -- generally based on whether someone works from home and loves it, or had a bad experience with a colleague who worked from home and hates it. So we shall see how Yahoo morale takes the news. But I do know this: Nixing telecommuting has a good chance of making one distracted Yahoo.

There are certainly benefits to sharing space, but there are also drawbacks, even in terms of the "speed and quality" that the memo claimed that remote work sacrificed. Sometimes people drop by a cubicle with brilliant ideas, and sometimes they drop by to show off the photos of their dog (again). Sometimes people meet each other by accident in the hallway, and sometimes you lose 15 minutes helping Bob find Steve, who he was told is on your floor, but actually isn't.

What having a flexible work-from-home policy does is allow employees to find the right mix. Maybe two days from home and three on-site, with everyone needing to be in the office on Tuesdays. Maybe you come in a little later in the mornings after getting your major work done at home, so you can be available for interaction in the afternoons. The goal is to enjoy the best of both worlds: The turbo-productivity that can come from waking up, grabbing your coffee, powering up your laptop and going to work with no commute, plus the interactions that come sometimes when you're close by your colleagues.

What Yahoo is saying is that only the latter matters. But I doubt the company is really against working from home. After all, I don't think Yahoo will ban employees from answering emails after 5 p.m. or finishing up a report in the evening or on the weekend. If they truly think that no good work can be done remotely, then the company needs to forbid that too. I'll wait for that memo.

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