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Silicon Valley Tech Workers: Get Your Butt in Here!

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
October 15, 2013 01:51 PM ET

CIO - What's rotten in Silicon Valley? It depends on your point of view.

A couple of iconic, struggling tech companies -- Yahoo in Sunnyvale and now Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto -- are calling their remote workers back to the office, a move that flies in the face of a decades-long work culture that thrives on meritocracy, independence and initiative.

Ironically, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard are claiming that their new work mandates are needed to spur innovation, which, of course, has been the hallmark of Silicon Valley.

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Rumors are also afoot that at least another company, Visa in Foster City, is quietly following suit. Apparently, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard have created a precedent (or at least, an excuse) for companies to draft similar policies and rein in wayward employees. Phone calls and emails to Visa attempting to verify changes to its work policy have gone unanswered.

But are these draconian work policies really going to help companies innovate?

Such a shift in Silicon Valley culture will surely be met with pushback. Tech workers have often been treated as company all-stars.

They get to wear jeans and flip-flops, play foosball and take mid-day siestas. The Google campus, for instance, has become famous for providing free gourmet food and services such as haircutting, laundry and exercise equipment. A few companies are even trying to woo techies to work for them by offering perks, such as free cleaning services for their apartments.

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HP and Yahoo Bucking the Trend

Nearly every Silicon Valley tech company has a flexible work-from-home policy, which makes Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard's new attitude toward workers so unusual.

Yahoo was the first company to make headlines about a strict worker policy. Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reportedly wasn't happy with the number of remote workers in Yahoo's ranks, as well as a tendency for employees to show up late and leave early. And so she clamped down. "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," read an internal Yahoo memo obtained by AllThingsD. "We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."

Like the San Andreas Fault, the mandate sent tremors throughout the valley. Many companies, including Hewlett-Packard, quickly denounced Yahoo's move. "We do not ban [work from home] and many HP people do it," a Hewlett-Packard spokesperson told AllThingsD. "It is not at all an issue at HP and hasn't been for years."

Less than eight months later, though, Hewlett-Packard changed its tune, according to another internal document obtained by AllThingsD. Here's an excerpt reportedly coming from CEO Meg Whitman:

Has Yahoo or HP Talked to Millennial Lately?

One of the problems with Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard's new approach is that it affects a critical subgroup of Silicon Valley tech workers: millennials. These young workers bring energy, tech savvy and new ideas to companies that live and die on the razor's edge of innovation -- Silicon Valley companies are fighting for them -- yet they've been known to shun inflexible work policies.

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