When Marissa Mayer banned working from home at Yahoo, the business world gasped. Everyone from Richard Branson to Maureen Dowd criticized the decision. “Telecommuting is not the problem, it is a solution,” wrote Ellen Galinsky. Our Farhad Manjoo wrote that Mayer had made “a terrible mistake.”
But, as many have since admitted, the move seemed to work for Yahoo, helping Mayer reinvigorate a flabby corporate culture and cultivate an underdog mentality. The company's stock has soared. Still, Mayer insisted that she wasn’t trying to start a trend. “It was wrongly perceived as an industry narrative,” she said of the move in an April keynote speech. Rather, working from home simply wasn’t “what’s right for Yahoo right now.”
Turns out it isn’t what’s right for Hewlett-Packard right now, either. AllThingsD now reports that, under CEO Meg Whitman, the company has been distributing a question-and-answer sheet to employees that encourages everyone to work at the office as much as possible. From the document:
During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck. We recognize that in the past, we may have asked certain employees to work from home for various reasons. We now need to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration and the more employees we get into the office the better company we will be.
The justification: “During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck.”
The policy doesn’t appear to be as strict as Yahoo’s. AllThingsD notes that HP doesn’t even have enough office space to accommodate all its employees, though it’s working on that. Still, some employees apparently must now ask for exceptions and demonstrate a particular need to work from home if they want to do so. And HP’s dictum affects far more people, as the company employs more than 300,000 worldwide compared to Yahoo’s 11,700.
Marissa Mayer may not have intended her telecommuting ban to become an industry narrative. But she doesn’t really get to decide that. If Yahoo continues its strong performance, CEOs of other ailing tech companies are going to come under increasing pressure to follow suit. If you're working from home at a company whose best days seem to be behind it, you'd better enjoy the latitude while it lasts.