Ending flexible working - what are the consequences?

Two years ago, Yahoo employees received a memo informing them of a new policy that meant anyone who worked from home would now be expected to relocate to the office. But has the policy worked and what difference has it made to the staff and the company?

"We did it for a very specific purpose," Jackie Reses, chief development officer at Yahoo, explained at last week's Virgin Disruptors debate on workplace wellbeing in San Francisco. "At the point in time we were, and frankly still are, in a transformation of a company. We wanted to send our team a message that we wanted everybody on deck, focused, looking at innovation, collaboration and using the benefits of their peers in order to evolve and change Yahoo.

"It’s absolutely the right decision for Yahoo, where we were, where we are. And it really was a catalyst for momentum and focus for the team to say, ‘we’re on it, we’re here, we’re focused'."

It is widely accepted that collaboration is key for innovation in a workplace.

Image credit: Hardy Wilson

It can lead to original thinking as colleagues encourage one another to form new ideas, it gives a diverse range of people in the workforce the opportunity to put their ideas forward.

But is it necessary to be physically in the same place in order for teams to collaborate? Based on the number of tools that have been built to enable and encourage teams to work together online, probably not. As Richard Branson pointed out during the debate: "You can work from anywhere these days".

Trusting people to work from home is the right thing to do

But is Yahoo’s policy working for them?

Reses said that the policy impacted "only a very small number of people" and is confident that it was the right decision for the company.

A quick look at Yahoo’s finance reports since the policy was introduced suggests that she may be right in thinking it was the right decision for the company. By the end of 2013, the company was reporting a stability in the business, at the time Marissa Mayer said that their investments would "establish a strong foundation for revenue growth". By the next report, the company had seen their most successful first quarter in four years.

Although it hasn’t been a roaring success – Mayer said that they were not satisfied with the results for the second quarter of last year – overall the business is more stable and has seen "encouraging revenue growth".

Image credit: Hardy Wilson

Will other companies follow suit?

Realistically, it’s unlikely that other companies will be introducing policies banning working from home. Flexible working is a fairly new policy for many companies and there haven’t been any serious negative effects reported following its introduction.

"I think for the vast majority of companies, trusting people to work from home is the right thing," Branson said. "And if they don’t do their work, then they no longer work for the company.

"I’ve worked from home since I was 22 and I’ve built a lot of companies and I’ve been able to spend time with my family, spend time with my kids. And the work stuff has worked out ok."

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