Yahoo and Best Buy’s Moves Reflect Changes in Their Businesses and Faith in Their Workforces

working from home.jpg
working from home — a lost luxury?

Telecommuting has been all over the news this week and many of us think it has been blown out of proportion.

First, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer changed the company’s policy that allowed employees to work (sometimes entirely) from home. Yahoo tried to put the story in perspective with a press release that said, “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home. This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.”

Just a few days later, Best Buy announced that it would eliminate its renowned Results-Only Work Environment, a program that allowed corporate employees to work when and were they chose, as long as the quality of the work met the company’s standards. Like Yahoo’s change, it’s not a total ban, but corporate employees are now expected to work 40 hours a week and come into the office “as much as possible.” Best Buy spokesperson Matt Furman said, “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”

So — bored or not — do you think Yahoo and Best Buy doing the right thing? I do.

Both these companies are engaged in turnarounds. Smart companies react to changing situations with their own changes, so I see these moves as responsive to business needs. It’s also reflective of the companies’ faith in their talent to help them steer the ship out of the storm.

Bloomberg’s shared workspace. Photo by Willie Jeung.

Mayer and Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly know that they need the collective brainpower of their employees to come up with great and wonderful ideas. It takes a village, after all. In fact, Marissa Mayer was brought to Yahoo to make the company more like Google — and neither Google nor Facebook, both of whom have made it so easy for us to connect with people virtually, allows unlimited telecommuting.

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Bloomberg, a hugely successful digital company, was a pioneer in seeing the value of instant, in-office, business exchanges in real-time. Its buildings famously have no offices, only shared spaces. It’s even part of its employer branding: “Our wide-open workspaces encourage collaboration.”

Many other companies limit or ban working from home. In fact, 15 of Forbes 100 Best Companies to Work For have no telecommuting program.

Talent management professionals have long known that it’s a business imperative to have the right talent for the right jobs at the right time. Now we may be coming to recognize that they need to be in the right place too.

Jody Ordioni is the author of “The Talent Brand.” In her role as Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Brandemix, she leads the firm in creating brand-aligned talent communications that connect employees to cultures, companies, and business goals. She engages with HR professionals and corporate teams on how to build and promote talent brands, and implement best-practice talent acquisition and engagement strategies across all media and platforms. She has been named a "recruitment thought leader to follow" and her mission is to integrate marketing, human resources, internal communications, and social media to foster a seamless brand experience through the employee lifecycle.


9 Comments on “Yahoo and Best Buy’s Moves Reflect Changes in Their Businesses and Faith in Their Workforces

  1. If a company really has “faith in their talent” they should trust that talent to know how and where and when they are most productive. They should respect that talent to understand the best ways to work to do the best job.

    For many of us, a noisy, interruptive, disruptive workplace is not the most productive place. Forcing us to work on site does NOT say you have “faith in your talent (employees).

  2. “So — bored or not — do you think Yahoo and Best Buy doing the right thing? I do.”

    Time will tell on that. Seeing as how both companies are trying to ‘turn around,’ it would suggest their decision making/management processes leave something to be desired. I wouldn’t characterize their moves as ‘responsive’ so much as reactive. They will likely keep most of their talent but on the margins lose those who placed a high value on the flexible work schedule. My guess is they’ll both go under regardless, and that these moves are more for show and won’t be used to actually accomplish anything. It makes management look good to have a lot of people scurrying about obviously ‘doing something.’ Whether or not it’s productive or not is something we won’t know until the companies either turn around, or go out of business. If the people they lose due to the changes in policy are key to them succeeding in these turn arounds, that doesn’t bode well for their success.

  3. I am a believer in results vs the method and while there are benefits that are derived from the face to face interaction that occurs in the office, there are also benefits that can come from allowing employees a choice to work from home. I think an outright ban is a bit extreme this would be a strong cultural shift that could have a negative effect on the moral of the affected employees. It’s hard to tell and you’d have to watch the attrition numbers to see what happens.

    It’s also about job function and what they are working on. Different work groups are going to have different projects, requirements, and performance objectives so it seems to be more of a power play than a real strategic shift in operating in both cases.

    Additionally, the fact that 15 out of 100 companies don’t have a formal telecommuting program isn’t evidence of anything. Does that mean that 85% do have one? If so, that would seem to provide more of an arguement for having a program. Curious about that stat?

  4. @ Everyone: well said. I think that some people and work situations are more amenable to either onsite or offsite, and a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t optimum. That That being said, taking away something positive which already exists can’t help morale. Consequently, I look forward to more companies doing the same thing, because these will be companies to NOT work/for…


  5. This is a great article.

    I’m rooting for Yahoo. It had this amazing collaborative culture but the company has lost its’ mojo. I think given that, the new CEO, Ms Mayer is trying to get it back on track. A command/control system is likely needed and they may be examining RIFs.
    Also, given the studies in human interaction/design, companies like Google plan it such that employees are only a few mins away from each other for face-to-face interactions and they have these amazing buildings with slick design, gourmet cafes, etc. They want you in the buildings.

    For Yahoo & Best Buy, this may make sense to take this approach. For other compaies that have virtual teams/telecommuters and are successful at it will continue with that approach.

    I do think a ban is extreme also – cleaver vs scalpel? Also, at the same time, the optics of a CEO building a nursery at her own expense and then in effect, denying others the opportunity who can’t afford it were missed by their communications and HR teams. It was a miss. Not sure if Yahoo offers day care services.

    I’d be curious to find if it is hurting their hiring efforts

  6. I’d be interested in finding a company that was committed equally to maximizing onsite face-time AND being family-friendly. Hmmm. Imagine having the Google-type buses pick the employees’kids up from school and taking them to an onsite play/study area, filled with all sorts of activities that otherwise the kids would have to be driven to by their parents or caregivers? Now THAT would be a lot better incentive than just requiring people to always be onsite, or take a hike…


    Keith “You Can Email Me, Marissa M for More Good Ideas” Halperin

  7. @Keith, I definitely like you idea about childcare–now that is innovative =) You also raise a very good point about taking away a positive as negatively impacting morale

    My perspective is that both of these companies are lacking in effective management. Having people “onsite” will not make for better managers. When managers do not know how to manager, they have ineffective teams. While face to face interaction is always positive, it is no substitute for an effective manager. If managers are not effective their teams will not be effective and productive–no matter how much “face time” they have.

  8. @Keith, I totally agree, a one-size-fits all strategy isn’t optimum. Equally important is the notion that some strategies work better at certain times in a company’s lifecycle.

    @Jesse, you are correct. 85% of companies have one, and sometimes, it is actually woven into the fabric of the organization. More here:

    @Merlynn, I couldn’t agree more. Onsite collaboration will not compensate for bad managers. But it might bring the issue to light faster.

    Thanks everyone, and you @Todd for another robust discussion.

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