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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Yahoo Issues a Statement on Work-at-Home Ban

In a front-page article in The New York Times on Tuesday morning, Catherine Rampell and I wrote about Yahoo‘s new policy banning employees from working remotely. The company declined to comment for that article, but on Tuesday afternoon, it issued a statement about the ban against work-at-home arrangements.

“This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home,” the statement said. “This is about what is right for Yahoo right now.”

A company spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the statement, saying, “We don’t discuss internal matters.”

But based on information from several Yahoo employees, what that statement means is that Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new chief executive, is in crisis mode, and she believes the policy is necessary to get Yahoo back into shape.

The employees spoke anonymously because they are not allowed to discuss internal matters.

The company also seems to be trying to distance itself from the broader national debate over workplace flexibility, and from criticism that the new policy is disruptive for employees who have family responsibilities outside work.

The work ethic at Yahoo among some workers has deteriorated over time, the Yahoo employees said, and requiring people to show up is a way to keep an eye on them and re-energize the troops. If some of the least productive workers leave as a result, the thinking goes, all the better.

Some employees have abused the former policy permitting work at home to the point of founding start-ups while being on salary at Yahoo, said the Yahoo ! employees and others have worked at the company.

Several business analysts said that if work-at-home arrangements don’t work, it is generally a management problem.

Yahoo’s culture and employee morale have dissolved as it has fallen behind hotter tech companies. And, business analysts say, those are two things that are difficult to repair without having employees present in the same place.

Still, Ms. Mayer has said many times that one of her top priorities for the company is to recruit the most talented engineers and other employees. Even if requiring people to show up is the only way to repair Yahoo’s culture, it could result in losing valuable employees.

And even if Yahoo’s broader work-at-home policy needed revision, the internal memo announcing the new policy struck some as tone-deaf by implying that employees should avoid stying at home even once in a while when there are extenuating circumstances.

“For the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration,” it said.