Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer is wrong! Flexible working works


London’s high travel and office costs make home working a must

London is one of the best cities on the planet to do business. But, even with a sophisticated public transport system, commuting is a challenge, sometimes a nightmare.

Luckily many bosses are starting to wake up to the reality that for some of us, no matter how early we rise, arriving to work on time can be a pipe dream.

Many firms have therefore started to raise the bar on flexible working, and more and more of us are being allowed to work from home.

The concept was rolled out en masse during the Olympics, with companies quickly raving about the trial. It seems that a large majority of us are actually more productive when we decide where and when we work. And yes, we can be better, more creative and efficient workers when we don’t have to face the prospect of an early morning face-to-armpit encounter with a fellow commuter.

This can be such a barrier to productivity in fact that according to a survey held by O2 in the wake of the Olympics, three quarters of British workers said they were most productive when they had an element of flexibility.

For the growing body of evidence to support the benefits of home working though, some rather unexpected voices are rising up in opposition to the flexible working revolution.

It came as quite a shock then that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently banned employees from remote working, claiming that colleague interactions and overall productivity would suffer. 

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Mayer said in a company-wide memo. “That is why it is critical that 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. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

It wasn’t long before reports of staff grumblings hit the web. Some Yahoo staffers who had accepted their roles at the struggling tech firm largely on the basis of flexible working pledges were allegedly outraged.

There have been no reports of mass walkouts but it was obvious that home working was a big pull and helped the company hire.

While the rest of the tech industry – which had until then been a leader in flexible working – has not followed suit yet, there have been signs that Mayer’s decision may have more serious sector-wide implications.

A shift away from the flexible working trend, however, would be a dangerous blow at a time when our economy is undergoing a fundamental shift.

Luckily, London-based firms are stepping in to oppose Yahoo’s decision and are vowing to stay firm.

Online communications firm Powwownow, which specialise in video conferencing, have spoken about why the likes of Yahoo may have made a bad decision.

“The decision on Yahoo’s part to bar their employees from working at home might backfire on them. It’s possible that they could be doing more harm than good, especially if some of their workers have to travel for hours on end to get to their office,” a company spokesperson said.

“With remote working, trust is important. Providing that both employees and employers know that they can trust each other to do the job without being distracted in any way, remote working could pay dividends.

“The fact that remote working allows for flexible hours could help firms sceptical about its benefits hire people who might not otherwise be able to work to a rigid timetable.”

Indeed, for a tech firm to be denying the benefits and ease of communicating via e-mail, video calls or instant messenger, make little sense.

For starters, there are sizable economic benefits. London already has some of the most expensive office space in the world. West End commercial real estate is now almost double that on New York’s exclusive Fifth Avenue.

The savings to be had from downsizing office space are therefore huge.

Nor are businesses that choose to move further afield in search of better deals spared the impact of high prices. Instead, workers will likely have to pay more for travel and may well arrive to work overly tired following a stressful commute. In turn, they may choose to leave earlier to avoid the excesses of the rush hour, which hits productivity and man-hours.

And it is not just travel and office money, flexible working hours can prove invaluable. In a city that’s open for business 24/7, working at different times of the day is possible from home; whereas in an office, opening times can restrict the amount of work done, even if there’s a deadline that needs to be met.

With so many different communication tools available to workers in the capital, it seems counterproductive to deny many Londoners the option to work remotely –  no matter how much Ms. Mayer may love her hallway or cafeteria chats.