February 25, 2013: What ComputerWorld calls the "work/life balance perk" -- telecommuting from home while you raise your kids -- may be about to become a victim of the recession and its increased competition for jobs not to mention creative market share.
Marissa Mayer, at left, a 37-year-old mother of an infant and the CEO (since July 2012) of Yahoo, has authorized an internal memo from her human resources department that announces a new rule "requiring all employees to work remotely" -- telecommuters -- to relocate to the office by June 1. (Interestingly, while the controversy has focused on telecommuting mothers, the average person who telecommutes is a 40-year-old male, according to Mellody Hobson on CBS News.)
"Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."
Or, as Yahoo! competitor Google’s CFO, Patrick Pichette, told an Australian tech audience last week, “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer, ‘What do you think of this?’.” When asked how many Google employees were telecommuters, Pichette responded, “As few as possible.”
USA Today's Joanne Bamberger calls the controversy arising from the Yahoo! memo, "The New Mommy Wars," adding:
In every decade since 1980, women's labor force participation has risen compared with men. In recent years, the workforce participation of women with children ages 6-17 is nearly identical to all men. Mothers' workplace success isn't just vital to the women and children involved, it is also vital to companies that want to have the best workers... The amount of household help they can afford to manage their family lives isn't a reality for the vast majority of women and never will be.
In an essay in today's Huffington Post, Nate C. Hindman added:
...Some current Yahoo workers applauded the company's move, saying it was a much-needed corrective to the firm's lax culture. "We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask. If you don't like it well too bad, the exit door is over there," said one commenter on the question-and-answer site Quora, who claimed to have worked at Yahoo for four years, Business Insider first reported.
Advocates of workplace flexibility have responded negatively to the policy change.
“What’s really troubling about this is that a technology company can’t figure out how to collaborate remotely,” Kate Lister, president of the Telework Research Center, said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Other supporters of telecommuting have similarly condemned Yahoo’s move, arguing that while the firm may have struggled to manage its virtual workers, introducing a zero-tolerance policy on working from home is not the answer...
Jessica Guynn, writing in the Los Angeles Times, noted:
...[Mayer is] one of only a handful of women leading Fortune 500 companies...is one of Silicon Valley's most notorious workaholics...[and] not the role model that some working moms were hoping for. The former Google Inc. executive stirred up controversy by taking the demanding top job at Yahoo when she was five months' pregnant and then taking only two weeks of maternity leave. Mayer built a nursery next to her office at her own expense to be closer to her infant son and work even longer hours.
...Now working moms are in an uproar because they believe that Mayer is setting them back by taking away their flexible working arrangements. Many view telecommuting as the only way time-crunched women can care for young children and advance their careers without the pay, privilege or perks that come with being the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.
"When a working mother is standing behind this, you know we are a long way from a culture that will honor the thankless sacrifices that women too often make," read one email sent to technology blogger Kara Swisher of AllThingsD, who first wrote about the ban. [Swisher's blog with the full memo can be read here.]
Hundreds of staffers — including those who work from home one or two days a week — will have to decide if they want to start showing up every day at the office or be out of a job, according to a memo leaked to Swisher.
"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," Jackie Reses, Yahoo's human resources chief, wrote in the memo sent out Friday.