AllThingsD has published a copy of an internal email, from Jackie Reses, head of HR at Yahoo!, which says “… 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. … We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” From the start of June, all employees will be required to work in a Yahoo! office.
Review: Well she has one point. There is the potential for cross-fertilisation of ideas at the coffee machine or through other casual office discussions. But in most companies there are very few people who work permanently away from the office and then mostly because they are constantly on the road. Others mainly spend just a day or two at home and actually spend the majority of time alongside their colleagues.
There is even a lot of evidence to suggest that those working from home are far more productive than their counterparts, through saved commuting time and fewer interruptions. Often the house-bound employees will work beyond office hours.
Add to that the benefits of avoiding the morning commute and the convenience for those with young children and it seems like a win-win for a company and its employees. So you can understand why Yahoo! employees may not be happy, particularly those with long-standing flexibility about where they work.
But there is also a significant environmental impact from this decision. As the Smart 2020 research pointed out, one of the most significant aspects of green ICT is its ability to enable people to work anywhere seamlessly. Broadband-enabled communications means fast access to the internet and the ability to replace face-to-face meetings with teleconferencing and videoconferencing. This aspect of ‘dematerialisation’ can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through avoiding travelling to work.
There are counter arguments, mainly around the use of electricity in the place of work. It can be more energy-efficient for all employees to be in the office. That may well be true of Yahoo! Last April the company said that, as the result of offices receiving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Certification, about 35% of employees work in designated ‘green’ buildings. But for most companies (depending on location, public transport, etc.) the energy savings from not travelling to work will outweigh the differences in energy used at the different places of work.
So this looks like a lose-lose scenario. A far-from-happy workforce that is potentially less productive. That's an issue for Yahoo! But the question of carbon emissions has broader implications. If an IT company like this – ideally suited for implementing home working – can turn its back on the sustainability benefits, then it sets a bad example for other organisations.
What’s really disappointing is that (according to Wikipedia) Mayer is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company and was ranked number 14 on the list of America's most powerful businesswomen of 2012 by Fortune magazine. She is of the generation from whom we would have expected more.