Skip to main content

Allow Yahoo workers to work at home

By Ellen Ernst Kossek, Special to CNN
February 28, 2013 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told employees that they must work in the office or quit
  • Ellen Ernst Kossek: Mandating face time will not automatically lead to creativity, productivity
  • She says Yahoo happens to be a case of telework gone horribly wrong
  • Kossek: If a company implements telework in the right way, everyone benefits

Editor's note: Ellen Ernst Kossek is co- author of "CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age," and she is the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Management at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management.

(CNN) -- Marissa Mayer's announcement that Yahoo employees who work remotely must come in the office or quit has raised howls of criticism.

Her supporters defend her decision by pointing out that many Yahoo workers who work at home never came in and hid from management, and that her decree is a wake-up call to get focused on teamwork and innovation so that the company can get up to speed.

Mayer's reasoning makes some sense. But mandating face time will not automatically lead to creativity and collaboration. The key is establishing a culture of innovation and aligning talent and performance. Telework should not have to axed in the process.

A work-at-home mom defends Yahoo's Mayer

Ellen Ernst Kossek
Ellen Ernst Kossek

Yahoo happens to be a case of an out-of-control, work-at-home company. It's telework gone horribly wrong. Telework, in itself, does not hurt productivity. But telework, when implemented poorly, can be a problem. Telework is just one out of many management tools designed to make a company more attractive for hardworking employees.

Working from home doesn't necessarily hurt productivity. If management takes the time to implement it effectively and link it to accountability, then telework benefits both the company and employees. It can build trust and promote healthy work-life balance among employees. However, management must have the courage to get rid of deadwood and fire telework abusers.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Employees commit to an organization because they buy into company goals and feel valued, not because they are ordered to sit at their desks. Yahoo may have long-term trust and morale issues if it continues this policy. Abolishing telework is like canceling the prom because some immature people spiked the punch bowl. It is not going to get Yahoo out of its doldrums. It may result in exodus, as talents leave for employers who do not see work-life flexibility at war with job performance.

Opinion: CEO is right: Yahoo workers must show up

Mayer's calling all remote workers into the office raises some unspoken prevailing cultural assumptions. Workers who have control over where, when and how they work are often perceived as less productive. Giving workers flexibility to integrate personal life with work is viewed as antithetical to boosting performance.

Yahoo ends telecommuting
Controversy grows over Yahoo ban

Yet studies have shown that all workers value control over personal and work time. This is not just a mom's child care issue or a dad's elderly care issue. It is a people issue. From millennials to Gen Xers to boomers, men to women, returning veterans to disabled employees -- having flextime and telework can make a huge difference in people's lives as they juggle work and life.

Adapting to new ways of working is a competitive advantage in today's working environment. Organizations should realize that not everyone works best in the same way. Some people can handle text messages from work, family, news and Facebook 24/7. Others work better at 5 a.m. or late at night. And then there are people who desperately need time to focus and detach from work to get creative.

Policy riles workers everywhere

Productivity does not equal face time. What remote workers should do is set clear performance goals and regular times for meetings and calls with core teams. Telework can build loyalty since employees can better manage their family life -- something that everyone can appreciate. And sometimes, they end up working more hours that they don't clock in.

So when should a company draw a line on working remotely or in the office? When management is no longer sure who works for them or how to coordinate a team, and employees always place their own interests over the company.

Yahoo needs to ask employees how to improve productivity and creativity without having to sacrifice telework. Given that it's harder than ever nowadays to separate the boundary between work from life, does Yahoo really think that requiring that employees to work in the office is the right solution? Let's hope Mayer's decision is temporary.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ellen Ernst Kossek.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT