Tech Firms Woo Alienated Workers in Wake of Yahoo! Controversy

Martha White
Gpointstudio | Stockbyte | Getty Images
Sonntag | Getty Images

Forget the corner office. In 2013, the most coveted workspace is a worker's own kitchen table or home office.

Nearly a week after a leaked memo revealed that Yahoo employees with work-from-home arrangements would need to show up in the office every day starting in June, smaller tech companies are attempting to woo disgruntled telecommuters.

Earlier this week, Drew Anderson, CTO of digital media startup Hitlab USA, posted an ad on Craigslist with "Yahoo Telecommuters Welcome" in the title.

Within two days, Anderson received between 100 and 200 replies — up to 10 times his usual response rate. "A handful" of applicants, he said, were current Yahoo employees.

Anderson said his ad also was yielding a better caliber of job applicants. "The range of experience is wider and just the general response has been very good," he said. "I'm using the event as leverage... It's a great tool for me."

Shortly after the memo was leaked, some companies took to Twitter to invite Yahoo employees to come work for them.

Marc Garrett, CEO of software developer Intridea, touted his company's flexible arrangements:

Hey #Yahoos: if you're being forced to quit come work with us @intridea. We all work from home!

So did Sara Rosso, an employee of Automattic, which runs the popular WorldPress content management system:

Disappointed in @marissamayer's ban on working remotely Yahoo peeps, come to @Automattic! :)

Yahoo Mayer's 'No Telecommuting' Rule
Yahoo Mayer's 'No Telecommuting' Rule

"You want to be able to give people the freedom to work," said Silke Fleischer, CEO of mobile app developer ATIV Software, based in Santa Rosa, Calif. Ativ's 11 employees all work remotely. Daily meetings and even job interviews are all conducted over Skype, she said.

While Yahoo's telework ban might bring back the water cooler conversations, Fleischer said, "We're on Skype all day long... we're communicating."

What CEO Marissa Mayer did right, experts say, was realize that Yahoo struggled with productivity and collaboration issues, and take steps to fix them. Her mistake was taking those steps in the wrong direction.

"You could have that situation regardless of whether teleworking was going on," said Dayna Fellows, president of consulting company WorkLife Performance. Yahoo's blanket ban on working from home is "a little baby-and-bathwater," she said, "It's not going to solve what I think they're trying to solve."

On average, office workers spend about 80 percent of their time working on tasks that require concentration and focus, with the remainder collaborative, said Richard Kadzis, spokesman at CoreNet Global, which works with clients on strategic management of corporate real estate and workplace resources.

Working from home part of the time lets employees be in the most productive environment to do both, he said. "Distractions are minimized," he said.

Aside from increasing productivity, a good telecommuting program also helps businesses cut costs. Companies in which around a quarter of the workforce works remotely save 10 to 15 percent on their real estate overhead, Kadzis said.

Fleischer said companies like hers could benefit from Yahoo's new policy. "It could actually free up talent from Yahoo. Smaller companies can't necessarily offer all these other options," she said. "However, they can offer you the freedom."