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Ashley Devick and Allison Friedman/MEDILL

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer recently banned working from home. While studies are inconclusive about worker productivity, workers in downtown Chicago weighed in on their own experiences with telecommuting from home.

People seem to agree with Yahoo CEO: Home is where the heart is, not the work ethic

by Ashley Devick and Allison Friedman
March 12, 2013

Yahoo Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer has become a magnet for criticism since abolishing her company’s work-from-home policy two weeks ago. Starting in June, Yahoo employees will no longer be allowed to telecommute on a regular basis.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Jackie Reses, the company’s head of human resources, wrote in an internal memo leaked to “That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

The decision has drawn heated debate from both sides of the fence. Some, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg believe in-office collaboration is the best way to get innovative work. Others say working from home should be an option for hands-on parents, workers with long commutes and those who simply focus better in solitude.

Of ten working professionals surveyed at random in the Loop, more than half agreed that working from home was inherently less productive.

“When you’re on the computer, they know you’re there, right?” said Joyce Parker, 55, who works for Chase. But Parker said employees can just log on, “and then do your laundry or whatever.”

Financial services worker Jessica Fugmen, 25, pointed to the multitude of distractions that pop up at home, adding, “It’s nicer to be in the office if you’re busy and you need help.”

Jason Newhuis, a 32-year-old mechanical engineer, saw benefits to staying put: “I don’t have to travel, so I have that amount of time to be able to focus on work,” he said. But when asked whether he thought most people worked effectively at home, Newhuis was decidedly less enthusiastic. “Absolutely not,” he said.

According to a 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 24 percent of Americans reported working from home at least a few hours per week.

“I think working remotely works great when everybody is passionate about the cause and 100 percent committed,” David Hassell, CEO of employee feedback service 15five, said in an email. “However if you’ve got a culture where people are not engaged and you need to turn things around, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea to get people back together and regroup.”

Allison O’Kelly, CEO of flexible staffing company Mom Corps, disagrees that physical togetherness is a prerequisite for productivity. “Stopping all remote work is not the solution for bring a company together – it will ultimately cause disengagement and attrition,” she said in an email. “Roaming the halls and meeting at the cafeteria aren’t specifically paths to collaboration, as an engaged workforce is not about physicality, but about proper management and empowered communication initiatives. “

In short, there is no simple answer to the question of whether Mayer’s move will improve Yahoo’s corporate culture.

“If they are gung-ho Yahoo employees, then the inconvenience might not bother them too much, as they might see this as an effort at turning things around,” said Keith Murnighan, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “In contrast, if they believe that working from home is a right that they deserve or have earned, resentment is also possible.”