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One Perk Gone: Yahoo Says No to Telecommuting

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Silicon Valley firms are known for cushy perks: free food, bringing your dog to work and so on. But starting in June, Yahoo employees will lose the benefit of working from home. According to an internal memo leaked on Friday to The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD.com by numerous disgruntled Yahoo employees, the new policy calls for workers "physically being together."

"We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices... Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," reads the memo from Jacqueline Reses, a private equity veteran brought on board by Mayer in September to be the company's HR boss.

"Hiring, managing and incentivizing talent will be of key importance," Reses said in the press release announcing her hire.

Although Yahoo beat Wall Street expectations and reported an increase in revenue last month, this recent good news follows a long stretch of poor performance and management turmoil. Some have speculated that Yahoo's no-telecommuting policy could be a defensive move, a way to lower the embattled tech giant's headcount without undertaking formal layoffs.

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Shortly after CEO Marissa Mayer took the helm in July, she implemented changes like free lunch, free phones and other perks reminiscent of her former employer, Google. Earlier this month, a Business Insider list of top U.S. employers ranked Yahoo eighth, behind second-place Google but ahead of Microsoft, which came in 14th.

This new policy might make holding onto that spot harder. It drew a scathing response on Twitter and blog comment threads, with many users saying that keeping a stable of unproductive workers is a management failure, and that the policy would prompt a brain drain. (A handful of smaller tech companies used the news as a chance to recruit, inviting frustrated Yahoo! employees to come work — on a flexible schedule — for them instead.)

Others defended Mayer, saying an all-hands-on-deck approach was the only way to keep the company's new momentum going.

In her short stint at Yahoo, this isn't the first time Mayer's work-life balance choices have been criticized. After giving birth to her first child last fall, Mayer planned to be back at work in only a week or two.

Carley Roney, co-founder of the parent company for TheBump.com, told "Today" that Yahoo!'s policy change could convey an "anti-parent" sentiment. Yahoo did not respond to the question of whether new mom Mayer sometimes works from home. "We don't comment on rumors or internal matters," a company spokeswoman said via email.

The Yahoo memo made it clear that workers shouldn't expect a lot of wiggle room or exceptions. "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," Reses said.

Studies that have tried to determine whether working from home helps or hurts productivity have drawn mixed conclusions. A study in June by Wakefield Research found that 43 percent of people said they watched TV while "working" from home, and roughly a quarter each admitted to taking a nap or knocking back a drink on the clock.

But a paper published just last week out of Stanford University said performance increased 13 percent when employees of a Chinese travel agency were allowed to work from home on a trial basis. "[A]bout 9 percent was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4 percent from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment)," researchers wrote. When the company ended the trial and extended the work-from-home option to the rest of its people, performance rose 22 percent.

What's more, there is a correlation between working from home and higher pay. Census Bureau data released last year found that part-time telecommuters earned a median $22,800 more than those who physically go to work every day.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report published in June found that telework is making inroads into the American labor market, albeit slowly. About a quarter of survey respondents said they worked from home at least some of the time.

"Evidence also reveals that an increasing number of jobs in the American economy could be performed at home if employers were willing to allow employees to do so," researchers wrote. Technology-related jobs were mentioned as top prospects for telework. Hurdles, when they existed, tended to stem from management reluctance rather than technological limitations.

Based on the BLS's findings, though, Mayer's new edict could be a blessing in disguise for Yahoo workers. Working from home "is not unequivocally helpful in reducing work-family conflicts," the report said. "Instead, telecommuting appears to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours... and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

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