I began telecommuting when my 62-mile-each-way commute was getting to be a major time sink during winter weather in New England. I worked at home one or two days a week in the peace and quiet of my home in the country. I got plenty done, far more, in fact, than I'd get done in a typical day in the office. Without (1) the time lost commuting and (2) the time wasted with interruptions and distractions and (3) time wasted going off site to buy lunch, I gained about three hours a day.
I was still successful. My clients, coworkers, and management could reach me any time of the day (we were banned from using cell phones while driving, so I was now accessible during that time). I invested in a robust printer/copier/scanner and good broadband service. I could listen to classical music and work in the sun-lit breakfast nook, taking calls with no background conversations or office noise. It was all good.
Later, when I had a job with extensive interaction with colleagues around the world, telecommuting made even better sense. My workday adapted to the demands of the job. I took a break for supper and a few hours, then got on calls with folks in Hong Kong, Christchurch, Perth, Shenzhen, Brisbane, and other far off places at 11:00 at night. I'd get up early for calls with London. Going into the office wouldn't have made any difference: these people weren't in my office. With the benefit of video teleconferencing - whether at the office or via web cams - we could achieve what we needed to achieve and feel a real connection to one another.
Maybe Yahoo's different, but I doubt it. Forcing people to traipse to the office every day won't necessarily inspire that serendipitous collaborative spark. It will, however, serve as a loud and uambiguous wake-up call to Ms. Mayer's employees that it's time to leave for more truly collaborative pastures.
Those who heed the call will typically be the more gifted, visionary, entrepreurial folks. They'll have no difficulty landing new jobs where their bright ideas, individuality, and flexibility will be seen as "features" rather than "bugs". They'll be the innovators that help Yahoo's competitors continue to eat Yahoo's lunch. In the near term, Yahoo's stock price - and Ms. Mayer's reputation as a non-nonsense CEO - may do very well. Wall Street will love this "crush the little people" story. Yahoo's employees, customers, and business partners will be the ones paying the price.
Those telecommuters who remain at Yahoo whether by choice or as a result of real or perceived wage-slave indenture will hardly be in a frame of mind to lead the company to new heights. At that point, an infusion of outsiders will likely be the next "fix". Since their new HR czarina has decreed that:
"Hiring, managing and incentivizing talent will be of key importance"
we can look forward to much more rigorous screening, indoctrination, and regimentation of prospective employees. "Incentivizing" employees, though? I'd have to wonder whether telecommuting privileges aren't among the most valued incentives. Personally, I would rather forsake the next paltry salary increase or meaningless change of title and grab for the telecommuting gold.
Whether this is the beginning of the end for Yahoo, or a business coup of the decade by new CEO Marissa Mayer remains to be seen. What is clear - as it has been for a long time - is that having a CEO who's a working mother doesn't ensure that working parents will catch a break. Far from it. They'll have to make difficult and painful choices if they want to keep working at Yahoo. Some will walk away from what they considered good jobs at a great place. Maybe that's exactly what Ms. Mayer is hoping.