Back to Work

Is Yahoo’s decision to nix working from home an innovation must or a morale killer?

For Yahoo employees looking to keep their jobs, it’s time to shed the bath robes and sweatpants and schlep back into the office.

That was the message in an internal memo delivered to Yahoo employees in February announcing the organization was ending its work-from-home policy.

By June, all company employees will be required to report to a Yahoo office. For some, this could mean relocating—or resigning. According to the memo, sent by HR head Jackie Reses and obtained by tech blog All Things D:

"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices," the memo read.1

It’s unclear how many of Yahoo’s 11,500 employees work remotely full time, but the change is one of many implemented by president and CEO Marissa Mayer since taking over the ailing internet corporation in July 2012. In an all-hands-on-deck meeting with employees in September, Mayer outlined her mission to personalize Yahoo and make it something used every day. She also emphasized making Yahoo move faster by giving employees more deadlines, ownership, resources and tools to get things done quickly.2

Mayer believes the best way to achieve these goals is for Yahoo employees to work together—in person.

The decision has created a stir among workers everywhere: Is Mayer’s decision the right one for innovation and productivity? Or will it lower workforce morale, and employee satisfaction and engagement, hindering workers’ ability and motivation to be creative and get things done?

Proximity breeds innovation

There is little doubt that working physically side-by-side is advantageous for collaboration and communication—both of which are necessary if Yahoo is to achieve its goals.

According to tech blogger Shawn Ferner: "Yahoo needs employees who want to live, breathe and evangelize Yahoo. The company needs employees in Sunnyvale, walking the halls, eating lunch with colleagues, brainstorming on whiteboards, gathering around monitors—basically, doing the things you’d see a small start-up doing in companies that emphasize collaboration and camaraderie."3

Personal interaction is the most effective way to convey a company’s direction, said Raymond Fisman in an opinion piece for CNN.com, and research supports that new ideas happen through "chance encounters."4

Research also has shown that face-to-face communication, friendships and social interaction at work make people happier and more productive.

Ben Waber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research scientist and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, along with colleagues at MIT and Harvard, came to this conclusion through "reality mining," which involves analyzing data individuals leave behind via email, instant messaging, phone logs and meeting information, and coming up with insights about work productivity and satisfaction.5

"Obviously there’s a big difference between working from home every day of the year and telecommuting occasionally," Waber said. "There are pros and cons to both arguments, but when you look at the data alone, there is compelling evidence that individuals coming in to work physically at Yahoo may benefit the company."6

But there are still loads of workers upset by the new rule, especially because flexible work environments and schedules have become part of many organizations’ employee engagement models during the last decade.7 According to a study conducted by Telework Research Network, working remotely increased 73% from 2005 to 2011 in the United States.8

Some opponents of the rule argue that employees are not necessarily the most productive working in the office—there is something to be said for getting outside the cubicle walls to tap creativity.

Furthermore, each employee’s case is different, so having an all-or-nothing policy is unrealistic. Having the option to work remotely and with more flexibility to, for example, handle personal or family responsibilities, can enhance worker morale and employee satisfaction.

As one worker put it while commenting on Google+ about her work-from-home experience: "[The company] didn’t lose my productivity. They gained an intensely loyal, hard-working employee that was so pleased with not having to take [time] off."9

In a Facebook post, former IBM employee Lynn Dang said Yahoo now risks losing top performers, and the policy suggests management distrusts its workers and wants more control—which is likely to lower morale and engagement.10

Others say it’s an issue of mismanagement—the company hasn’t fully deployed technology, such as Skype and video conference tools, that makes telecommuting a viable business option. "There should be no time when an employee is more than a couple of taps away," read one post on Google+.11

What’s right?

In response to the larger debate its new rule sparked, Yahoo issued a short statement, saying "This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home—this is about what is right for Yahoo right now."12

Is it truly what’s right? It depends on how Yahoo fares after implementing this policy, which will lend insight into the larger impact telecommuting may have on an organization’s ultimate success or failure. Until then, the choice for Yahoo employees is clear—start working in the office, or stay home.

—Amanda Hankel, assistant editor


  1. Julianne Pepitone, "Marissa Mayer: Yahoos Can No Longer Work From Home," CNNMoney, Feb. 25, 2013, http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/25/technology/yahoo-work-from-home.
  2. Nicholas Carlson, "Here is the Plan Marissa Mayer Just Announced to Yahoo Employees," Business Insider, Sept. 25, 2012, www.businessinsider.com/here-is-the-plan-marissa-mayer-just-announced-to-yahoo-employees-2012-9.
  3. Dorrine Mendoza, "Yahoo Work-from-home Policy Riles Workers Everywhere," CNN, Feb. 26, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/02/26/tech/yahoo-reaction/index.html.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Amanda Enayati, "A Work-at-home Mom Defends Yahoo’s Mayer," CNN.com, Feb. 27, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/02/27/living/parent-defends-yahoo-mayer-policy/index.html.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Cy Wakeman, "Is Yahoo Right to Ban Working From Home?" Forbes, March 7, 2013, www.forbes.com/sites/cywakeman/2013/03/07/is-yahoo-right-to-ban-working-from-home.
  8. Mendoza, "Yahoo Work-from-home Policy Riles Workers Everywhere," see reference 3.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Kim L. Brown.

RESIDENCE: Marlboro, MD.

EDUCATION: Master’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of South Carolina.

CURRENT JOB: Director of product development in the financial management division of Management Concepts in Washington, D.C.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Brown first became aware of quality a few years after college while she was earning her MBA in management. She began working weekends as a pharmacy technician at Walmart and called the local plant manager in South Carolina to learn about their supply chain quality processes. She began to learn about the related technology, Six Sigma, lean manufacturing and continuous improvement. From then on, she was hooked on quality.

PREVIOUS QUALITY EXPERIENCE: National curriculum manager for the American Red Cross biomedical services division where she oversaw biomedical and technical training for 50 regions around the country. She was also the program manager and the quality, curriculum and project manager for the American Red Cross and handled a variety of quality-related activities.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Member of ASQ Section 509, ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership Division and ASQ’s Biomedical Division.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Brown is an academic peer reviewer for publications including Academy of Management and The International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. She is also a doctoral teaching assistant at the National Graduate School for Quality Management. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Women, Who’s Who Worldwide, and a board member of Helping Hands Enrichment and Leadership Foundation. In addition, she is a Distinguished Toastmaster and serves as a Toastmasters Leadership Institute presenter and instructor. Brown was the district 36 public relations officer for three years, the club president and vice president of education, and a member of National Sigma Sigma Service Sorority.

PUBLICATIONS: She has had many works published, including an abstract for the International Association of Technology, Education and Development, and an abstract and paper for the Florida Academy of Science.

RECENT AWARDS: Brown has received several awards from Toastmasters International.

PERSONAL: Married with two adult stepchildren.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Travelling, relaxing on the beach and enjoying the water.

QUALITY QUOTE: Quality is ours to own, maintain and improve.

ASQ Journal Spotlight

Every month, QP highlights an open-access article from one of ASQ’s seven other journals.

This month, make sure you read "Psychological Impact of Metrics," which appeared in January’s edition of Journal for Quality and Participation (JQP).

The article, an excerpt from Duke Okes’ latest book, Performance Metrics: The Levers for Process Management, points out the psychological factors that influence the establishment and use of metrics. The book is available through ASQ Quality Press.

To access the article, click on the "Current Issue" link on JQP’s website: http://asq.org/pub/jqp. From there, you can also find a link to information about subscribing to the quarterly publication.

Donald Feigenbaum Passes Away

Donald Feigenbaum, a business innovator who co-authored several books on quality and leadership with his brother, Armand, died of heart failure last month. He was 87.

A long-time resident of Pittsfield, CT, Donald Feigenbaum graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY, in 1946 after he served in the U.S. Navy. He first worked at General Electric during the late 1940s, and in 1957 became general manager of International Systems Co.

Eleven years later, he and his brother founded the international systems engineering firm, General Systems Co., where he served as executive vice president and chief operating officer. The company designs and installs operational systems for corporations.

He and Armand co-authored several books, including The Power of Management Capital (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and The Power of Management Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2009). The brothers’ works also have appeared in QP, including "New Quality for the 21st Century" (December 1999), "Quality, Not Quantity of Management" (October 2003) and "The Future of Quality: Customer Value" (November 2004).

Donald Feigenbaum was an ASQ fellow and served as chair of ASQ’s systems engineering committee for eight years.



32 Teams Named Finalists
For Excellence Awards

Thirty-two teams from 10 countries have been selected as finalists in the 29th annual International Team Excellence Award Process.

The teams will be part of the quality impact sessions and live team case study presentations May 6-8 at ASQ’s annual World Conference on Quality and Improvement (WCQI) in Indianapolis.

The finalists will showcase their creative and innovative solutions and organizational cost savings. Conference attendees can observe team project presentations. The finalists from the education category are:

  • National University of Singapore.
  • Ramaiah Institute of Management Studies, Bangalore, Karnataka, India.
  • Singapore Polytechnic.
  • The finalists from the government category are:
  • Colorado Department of Transportation, Denver.
  • Housing and Development Board, Singapore.
  • Ministry of Defense, Singapore.
  • U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan RMC, Yokosuka.

The finalists from the manufacturing category are:

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev, Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • Boeing, Long Beach, CA.
  • Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta.
  • Continental Guadalajara, Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, Jalisco, Mexico.
  • General Motors, Milford, MI.
  • Humana RightSourceRx, Glendale, AZ.
  • Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, St. Louis.
  • Oshkosh Defense, LVSR Leak Reduction Team in Oshkosh, WI.
  • Reliance Industries Ltd., Bharuch, Gujarat, India.
  • Reliance Industries Ltd. Hazira, Surat, Gujarat, India.
  • SE Blades Limited, A Suzlon Group Co., Pune, Maharashtra, India.
  • Yanfeng Visteon Automotive Electronics Co. Ltd., Shanghai.

The finalists from the service category are:

  • CitiPower/Powercor, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
  • Genpac, Gurgaon, Haryana, India (two teams).
  • Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd., Gurgaon, Haryana, India.
  • Nokia HERE, Location Content, Chicago.
  • Pruksa Real Estate Public Co. Ltd., Bangkok, (two teams).
  • Telefonica Argentina, Buenos Aires, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
  • TELUS, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Vanguard, Malvern, PA (two teams).
  • Wipro BPO, New Delhi.

The finalist from the healthcare category is Baxter Healthcare Corp., Deerfield, IL.

To review the finalists’ project summaries, visit wcqi.asq.org. There, you also can find information about the speakers, the 100-plus conference sessions and a complete schedule of events and activities at WCQI.

Short Runs

THE THIRD ANNUAL Advancing the STEM Agenda Conference will take place at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, MI, on June 3-4. This is an opportunity for educators and industry professionals to share ideas, best practices and research about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives and collaborations to inspire, mentor and prepare students for STEM careers. This year, the conference will explore the theme of collaboration with industry to promote STEM education. For more information, visit http://asq.org/conferences/stem-agenda.

THE 25TH ANNUAL Quest for Excellence Conference and Award Ceremony will take place April 7-10 in Baltimore. The event will feature programs on the best practices from the 2012 recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, as well as those of award recipients from previous years. Ben Carson, M.D., the director of the division of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, will be the keynote speaker on April 9. For more information about the event, visit www.nist.gov/baldrige/qe/index.cfm.

THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION for Standardization (ISO) recently launched an ISO 14001 continual improvement survey to develop an understanding of the needs of current, past and potential users, and other knowledgeable interested parties in relation to environmental management system standards. The survey takes into account key topics from the ongoing discussions in the working group that is revising ISO 14001, and the results will be used to inform the revision underway. To take the survey, visit www.iso.org/iso/14001survey2013.org.

MANU K. VORA, an ASQ fellow, will be featured on two TEDx Talks this month. The first of these online presentations and discussions, titled "Leveraging Social Responsibility to Unite the World," (www.tedxiitbhu.com) will be on April 7. The second, titled "Exponential Power of Gift of Giving," (http://mypages.iit.edu/~tedxiit/) is scheduled April 13. Visit the specific TEDx links a few days before each event for a link to the live event.

ASQ QUALITY PRESS is publishing a new book this month called The ASQ Quality Improvement Pocket Guide: Basic History, Concepts, Tools and Relationships. The beginner-level guide is ideal for introducing people to quality improvement, and it’s also a good refresher and quick reference for those already familiar with the topics. For more information about the book, visit http://asq.org/quality-press/index.html.

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