Why Banning Remote Work is Hurtful, Not Helpful

Heather Taylor Social Media Manager, MyCorporation

Posted on February 26th 2013

Why Banning Remote Work is Hurtful, Not Helpful

ImageIt was a news headline that made my blood run cold when I read it just a few days ago. CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, recently announced through a companywide memo that every employee employed with Yahoo must now come into the office to do their work with no exceptions available to work from home. If an employee doesn’t like that option, they can quit.

Having been a Mayer supporter for some time now, I can’t say I feel the same upon reading the news and the very obvious split in articles online that both praise and condemn Mayer’s actions. Rather than immediately rail on Mayer and cry out that all of this is her fault, I was determined to look at both sides of the coin to see what it is about remote working that requires such a strong ban in a company filled with hundreds of employees like Yahoo. And having done my homework, I cannot agree with banning remote working. I cannot support it. And I absolutely refuse to for the following four reasons.

For Anyone in Social Media, This is Our Worst Nightmare

Remote work and telecommuting isn’t for every industry. Careers that are more hands-on with employees who are higher up the totem pole of job titles may require more face time in the office than say, an intern or entry level assistant will. But for anyone working in social media especially, this ban is our worst nightmare. Social media managers and associates are constantly fighting for the position as it is and restrictions like these in a job that can basically be done anywhere so long as your internet connection is solid, are very much like what happens if you get caught in a boa constrictor’s embrace: slowly but surely it will squeeze the life out of you. This brings me to my next point…

Being in the Office Doesn’t Guarantee a Better Performance

This has long been one of my favorite myths of any business – seat a person in a cubicle for 8 hours 5 days a week and expect them to deliver insanely brilliant work day in and day out nonstop like some sort of content machine. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were under the impression this is so, but it’s not.

The Yahoo memo stresses that "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," yet Mayer paid to have a nursery built in her office for her infant son. For every employee who works from home with a major (or smaller) company, this memo must feel like a slap in the face to them. That good, solid work can’t be produced unless it’s under poorly lit fluorescent lighting with your coworkers gossiping cattily nearby over the water cooler. In AllThingsD, Kara Swisher writes that many employees were also hired under the impression that they could work from home with a more flexible work schedule. Imagine the amount of resentment that these employees will now feel with this option no longer in place and instead trudging into the company headquarters day in and day out, building to resenting the company culture in place, especially if said employees are working mothers with families to uproot and relocate along with them.

Leaders Make the Call on Who Works Remotely and Who Doesn’t

Now we flip to the other side of the coin – Yahoo’s side. Apparently the company has suffered from quite a history of remote work abuse with former employee accounts mentioning that many who worked from home weren’t productive, available, or in some cases, it was a surprise that they still worked at Yahoo. And this was in departments across the board, exclusive to no one particular area either.

While I may have a Jiminy Cricket-esque voice in my head that often badgers me to constantly set and reach as many goals as I possibly can each and every day, I know the same can’t be said for everyone else. Self motivation and work ethic as a whole is extremely difficult to have and hang onto, especially if you’re working from your PJ’s in bed on a rainy morning and still feeling more sleepy and less into doing actual work. Rather than put a ban on remote working, a leader needs to evaluate the person who is requesting it as an option, thoroughly read through their track records at the company, and make the call on whether they can or not.

It’s an Impractical, Stale Move That Takes Your Company a Major Step Backward

I do understand that at the core of everything, Mayer is doing her best to remedy problems that have built up within Yahoo over a 15 year period. Many of her decisions will be criticized and heavily scrutinized by employees and non-employees at Yahoo alike. But I also believe that the best way to solve a problem is to remain true to the time period, too. Banning remote workers in an age that is heavily transitioning to telecommuting will have a harder time adapting to the times and not being made a laughingstock to outside companies that have mastered remote working and cannot imagine being without it.

The biggest move Mayer should be making? Communicate more. Communicate often. There is structure that can be built through strong communication with staff no matter how many are on the team or where they’re at – if you’re communicating often with your team, it means more collaboration and makes them impossible to forget. (Speaking from personal experience, you can be forgotten just as much if you’re in the actual office as you can if you work remotely. It’s not a location exclusive thing.)

Through great communication come better results, established boundaries, and structure which once all in place will have your ship sailing along quite smoothly. Even to a point where it has the flexibility to decide where to head next and how to make that approach with the crew.


Heather Taylor

Social Media Manager, MyCorporation

Heather Taylor is a social media manager, freelance writer, and blogger. She has had her written work published with Yahoo! Shine, Forbes, The Shriver Report, Social Media Monthly, BettyConfidential, HelloGiggles, The Huffington Post, and more. Contact her on Twitter @howveryheather or directly email howveryheather@gmail.com.

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Very well put Heather. I thought your article was even better than the Forbes take on the same subject. I agree, this feels like a step in the wrong direction and perhaps better communication throughout the entire organisation would make a big difference. I do feel somewhat sorry for Marissa Mayer though, she does have a genuine issue that needs to be addressed, perhaps it could simply could have been handled a little better.

I thank you for the compliment, Helga. Good communication will be what makes and breaks most companies in the end, not whether or not they can keep their employees on a regulated time clock or encased within a cubicle. Without a manager who guides and helps you along the way while still promoting a flexible and open environment that allows for any questions to be asked when they come up, I suppose a business can still succeed but ultimately it's not on the right track. It's using a formula that closes more doors than it opens which will dig a slow grave for the company in the long run - one that once dug, they'll be stuck in and it will take awhile to get out of. The larger the company, the more it gets difficult to hide the hole. This is what I believe happened with Yahoo's telecommuters. (These are all theories and thoughts cobbled together by what I've read on the situation but everything about making communication your biggest strength? Proven to work every time.)




Great piece! Having worked for some companies that offered both options, I can tell you that I have always found myself more productive from home. No phones ringing, coworkers gossiping about how trashed they got over the weekend, managers standing over your shoulders doing their best micromanaging impressions etc. Yes, not everyone is productive at home, so it should be viewed on a case-by-case basis by companies. More companies are actually finding that letting employees work from home is not only productive and healthy, but also saves the business money on office space, electric bills, equipment, and more. For those companies living back in the 1970s yet, whereby people sit 5-10 feet apart at desks, good luck.

Exactly! I do understand that not every position can be done on a telecommuting basis, but for those that can why not give them the chance to go for it and do it well?