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March 1, 2013 Blog 2 min read

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has sparked a nationwide debate with her memo to staff abolishing the company’s work-at-home policy and mandating that everyone work in the office. Those in favor of her decision cite studies that although working from home enables staff to be more productive, it also renders them less innovative. Those against the decision cite that it hampers work-life balance and worry how the decision will affect those who care for young children or aging parents outside of work.

It’s an interesting debate. The internal memo sent by Yahoo’s director of human resources, Jackie Reses, states, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important….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.” She has a good point—in-person contact is critical to an organization’s success, whether it’s formal or impromptu. Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum but from conversation, collaboration, and debate among people of varying skillsets and mindsets. Technologies such as instant messaging and video chat help, but they can’t replace in-person communication.

But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be room for flexibility.

For Plante Moran, it’s all about balance. Staff can set their own schedules—within reason—as long as supervisors provide approval and client needs are met. For the vast majority of people, this means working from home on occasion. (I’m actually working from home right now.) If someone has a sick child, he/she is welcome to work from home to attend to that need. If a staff member is working on a project that requires significant quiet and concentration, he/she can work from home to attend to that project. If a PMer needs to schedule a home repair—you guessed it—he/she can work from home to accommodate that need.

How did we arrive at this approach? We believe that flexibility is an outcome of accountability, responsibility, and transparency. The more accountable and responsible staff are for their work, making sure they’re as productive at home as they would be in the office, and the more  transparent staff are in communicating when and where they’ll be working, the greater their freedom to enjoy flexibility.

I can appreciate where Yahoo is coming from, but drawing such a hard line in a world where work-life balance has become a key component of creating a great workplace wouldn’t work for us. It will be interesting to see if the debates spur further action from Yahoo or similar actions from other top-notch organizations.

What do you think? What’s your company’s stance on working remotely? Does Yahoo have the right idea?