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Did Yahoo End a Telecommuting Trend in 2013?

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Aug 22, 2017
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Did Yahoo End a Telecommuting Trend in 2013?

In early 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer changed a policy that rocked the company’s happy nerd culture. She banned telecommuting, the popular practice that allowed employees to work from home or another remote location outside of the Yahoo offices. The official Yahoo memo from HR head Jackie Reses stated that, “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” 

Although less than 2% of the company’s 12,000 employees were full-time telecommuters when the memo was published, many had arrangements that allowed them to work from home one or more days a week.

In March 2017, IBM followed suit and rescinded its long-standing work-from-home policy in an effort to foster more collaboration.
Is telecommuting a thing of the past? Does it mean an end to collaboration and culture if employees aren’t in an office together? Not necessarily.

Numbers don’t lie
According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, telecommuting is on the rise with a 115% growth in the past decade. In fact, many well-known companies offer remote jobs. Although plenty of sources cite millennials as the driving force behind telecommuting policies, half of telecommuters are 45 or older and most are in management positions. So, Yahoo and IBM did not start an in-office only trend. But employers may still be hesitant to allow telecommuting for a variety of reasons. 

Busting a myth: productivity
One fear employers may have about allowing employees to telecommute is the fear that employees will be less productive working outside of the office. The truth is, study after study finds the opposite is the case. Without the distractions of an office environment, remote workers are more efficient and productive and have lower rates of absenteeism. And, without the hassle of a commute, remote workers experience less stress.

Busting a myth: job satisfaction
Employers may also have concern that remote employees won’t feel connected to the company and its culture. In fact, one study found that remote employees reported higher morale than in-office workers. With high job satisfaction and regard for their employer’s flexibility, remote workers are more likely to stay in their jobs, too. With the variety of means available to boost connection and engagement—from Skype to social media—it’s easier than ever for remote workers to stay connected to their colleagues and collaborate from afar.

Money talks
Both employers and employees save money when employees telecommute. Full-time telecommuters save an average of $4,000 per year in commute expenses. Employers, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, “can save over $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year.” And the high job satisfaction rate enjoyed by telecommuters means less employee turnover, a huge cost savings to employers.

Great, but what about me?
So what does all this money savings and job gratification mean for employers? Should all employers institute a telecommuting policy?

It depends.

Companies nationwide are feeling the strain of competing for top talent. If that sounds like your business climate, then redesigning your company’s talent management strategies to attract the smartest and most accomplished employees and then keep that top talent engaged could be in order. And putting a telecommuting policy in place may be just the ticket.

In addition to full flex jobs and full-time telecommuting, occasional telecommuting and alternative schedules are other options that can be molded to fit both employees’ and the company’s needs. Savvy companies are seeing the trend and aligning work processes, systems, and talent management programs to allow for this flexibility.

Make it official
If allowing employees to telecommute some or all the time feels right for your business, take the time to think through policies and guidelines and publish them for employees.

Some things to consider are:

  • Eligibility—who is, or what types of positions are, eligible to work a telecommuting schedule?
  • Schedule—what hours are employees required to work when telecommuting?
  • Furniture, equipment, software and supplies—what will the company provide? 
  • Confidentiality—what measure will be put in place to ensure company and customer materials are safeguarded? 
  • Workers’ compensation and liability insurance—what is your company’s policy covering personal injuries that occur during a telecommuter’s workday?  

Consider, too, how to end a telecommuting arrangement. Map the process a manager can follow when deciding that business needs or employee performance no longer support a telecommuting schedule for a particular employee or if the employee requests a return to a company work location. When Yahoo abruptly ended its telecommuting program, much of the criticism aimed at the company was at the “how” it was done, not at the “why.” Thinking through and documenting the details could prevent headaches down the road. 

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