Yahoo's work from home ban puzzles business leaders

Businessman Sir Richard Branson has added his voice to the furious debate sparked by the head of internet giant Yahoo, who is banning her employees from working from home.

The billionaire boss of the Virgin empire says Yahoo's ban is a backwards step in the current age.

Yahoo's edict also goes against the trend in Australia, where the push is on to double the number of people who work from home.

As part of its National Digital Economy Strategy, the Australian Government says its goal is to double the level of what it calls telework to 12 per cent by the year 2020.

There is even a government telework website which spruiks the benefits of the National Broadband Network and features videos on the benefits of working from home.

Faster, cheaper computers and internet access have pushed a global trend towards working from home, so the decision by struggling IT giant Yahoo to ban the practice has puzzled many observers.

Yahoo's relatively new chief executive Marissa Mayer has signed off on an internal memo announcing that staff can no longer work from home from June this year.

The memo says speed and quality are often sacrificed when people work from home, and some of the best decisions are made at impromptu meetings in the workplace.

The head of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, is one of many who have used the internet to criticise the ban.

In his blog, Sir Richard calls it a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.

"I was amazed because this is not really the way that most other organisations are going," said Dr Yvette Blount, the research co-ordinator at Macquarie University's Australia Anywhere Working Research Network.

Dr Blount says companies can save lots of money by getting people to stay at home.

"When you talk to Cisco and IBM and Telstra and those sorts of organisations, they've all been working flexibly and working remotely for a number of years now, and it works very, very well," she added.

More productive While some bosses may worry that employees working at home are prone to slacking off, Dr Blount says the evidence shows most staff actually get more done at home than in the office.

"On the one hand, there clearly are people that take advantage of the situation and aren't motivated and can't get out of their pyjamas, but the research is leaning more towards the other way of work intensification, where people are working harder," she said.

"They're working longer hours because they're not facing the commute and they're working from home and they're calling it better productivity, but whether or not that's better productivity or whether it's because people actually see telework or working flexibly as a privilege and they don't want to lose that, is a question that we still need to answer I think." Working from home does not suit everyone or every business, but the Australian Industry Group is also promoting it.

"[Yahoo's ban on working from home is] certainly a surprising decision, particularly for an information technology business to take," said Tennant Reed, the principal national advisor (public policy) at the Australian Industry Group.

"Certainly we have been seeing an increasing number of businesses sit up and take notice of the possibilities that telework offers for them." Australian Industry Group research shows there is still a stigma about working form home.

"One of the things that is needed I guess is leadership from management itself on this to trial telework at the management level and demonstrate from the boss on down, that employees will not be marked down for teleworking," added Tennant Reed.

Whether Yahoo's ban on working from home really is a backward step, it has certainly sparked debate about the issue.

However, it is one the company is not keen to prolong - a Yahoo spokesman says the company does not comment on internal matters.

Market Data

  • Currencies
    Currencies
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.9259-0.0028-0.30%
    AUDUSD=X
    0.5511-0.0023-0.42%
    AUDGBP=X
    0.6697-0.0024-0.36%
    AUDEUR=X
  • Commodities
    Commodities
    NamePriceChange% Chg