Think back to the mid 80s. Michael J. Fox starring in the hit movie "Back to the Future." His 1981 DeLorean, powered by the flux capacitor invented by the esteemed Dr. Emmett Brown, was sent back in time to Hill Valley on the date of November 5, 1955. What was going on in 1955? Well, we know George McFly was still in school. We also know that Goldie Wilson was thinking of running for Mayor of Hill Valley. And we know that no one telecommuted back then, and working from the office was the norm.
I can only imagine that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer must have slipped in her bathroom, bumped her head on the toilet like Doc Brown and had a vision of a flux capacitor that could send people back in time on her pre-weekend memo that gave employees a "come into the office or quit" ultimatum. I imagine that Marissa actually went back in time and is preparing for the "Enchantment Under the Sea Dance," which is distracting her from her role of being the boss of Yahoo.
Other than proving that time travel is real, I really don’t see the benefit to this edict. Mayer argues "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," but I really don’t understand the basis for this argument, especially for a company that makes tools that are supposed to help people connect better when they’re not face to face.
Instead of making Yahoo the poster child for stodginess, how about making Yahoo a shining example of how tools like chat, presence, VoIP, video and mail, if used effectively, can make people more productive than sitting around in meetings in conference rooms?
Any research study I have seen on remote working indicates that people are more productive when they have the flexibility to create their own optimum workday and that likely doesn’t include sitting on 101 for an hour each way. I agree that some people might take advantage of it and don’t work as hard, but that’s a management issue, and it's nothing new. People who are unmotivated to work from home will also be unmotivated in the office. I also think individuals will be less likely to check in with their work at night after sitting through a long, boring Silicon Valley commute, so Yahoo’s losing the productivity time in some late working hours.
Instead, Yahoo should focus on creating new ways of working. A combination of chat, presence and mobility can bring people together faster than ever before. Need a quick response from someone working at home? Send them a chat request. Want that same request from someone in a meeting room? You may have to wait until they’re out of the meeting.
Anyway, “Back to the Future” ended with George kissing Lorraine (yes I’ve seen this movie too many times) and everyone lived happily ever after. Perhaps this year will end with Mayer being named the best CEO of 1955.