It could rank as one of the supreme ironies of the internet age. Silicon Valley pioneer Yahoo!, which helped bring the digital communication revolution to the toiling masses, has banned its staff from working from home.
To add an extra twist, the edict outlawing remote operations which has infuriated parents previously able to juggle childcare with their careers has come under the watch of Marissa Mayer, corporate America’s most celebrated working mother, who returned to the office just two weeks after giving birth to her first child.
A memo sent last week by the company’s head of human resources told Yahoo! staff that they had until the summer to migrate back to the company HQ in Sunnyvale, California, or forfeit their job amid mounting concern that workers were “hiding” from bosses who had lost track of who was supposed to be where and doing what.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side by side,” the memo stated. “That is why it is critical we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
Chief executive Ms Mayer, 37, who once ranked her priorities as God, family and Yahoo!, is charged with turning round the company which has been eclipsed by rivals such as Google. She is said to have become frustrated at the sight of the half-full company car park emptying rapidly at 5pm each day – not least after building her own nursery next to her office to allow her to put in longer hours.
But one anonymous member of staff said female employees would be hit hardest. “When a working mother is standing behind this, you know we are a long way from a culture that will honour the thankless sacrifices that women too often make,” she wrote.
Some analysts have suggested the back-to-work diktat could be a covert way of reducing staff numbers and restoring a competitive work ethic at the company which employs 11,500 people in 20 countries. However, the move was described by Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson as “perplexing” and a “backward step”.
“If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality,” Sir Richard said.
A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that flexible employment was now common in British companies, with 54 per cent offering home-working on a regular basis.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said there was a powerful business case for allowing workers greater freedom.
“The evidence shows that where people are able to benefit from flexible working they are more likely to be engaged and go the extra mile at work,” he said. “They have lower levels of stress and are more likely to stay with their company,”.