Google executive Marissa Mayer (Getty Images)
Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO - Almost 10% of U.S. workers do their jobs from home at least one day a week, so news that ailing tech giant Yahoo will end the practice in June surprised many.
"It's the only thing that has made our lives remotely possible and affordable and sort of possible to raise kids," says Lopa Pao, 36. She is the donor relations officer of the Green Belt Alliance, a conservation group in the San Francisco Bay Area. When her second child was born, she wanted more flexibility and discussed it with her executive director.
"Literally his words were, 'I don't care if you do your work from a beach in Tahiti, just get it done and raise three-quarters of a million dollars a year,'" she says.
She switched to working from home two days a week and over the past four years has kept on target with fundraising while being able to schedule time with her children, 4 and 8, and her husband, a chef. That flexibility has kept her in her current job for eight years, even though she figures she could probably make more money and move up if she went elsewhere. It's made her an "extremely loyal employee," she says.
Yahoo's decision is meant to foster collaboration, according to a company memo sent to employees Friday.
Yahoo's head of human resources, Jackie Reses, wrote that communication and collaboration will be important as the company works to be "more productive, efficient and fun." To make that happen, she said, "it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings."
The number of people who work at home has been increasing steadily, according to the U.S. Census:
• In 2010, 9.5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home at least one day a week.
• About 25% of those workers were in management, business or finance.
• People who work at home usually work the same hours as those in an office.
• Boulder, Colo., has the highest percentage of people working from home most of the week: 10.9%.
More companies are encouraging telecommuting, and the U.S. government is promoting it, to cut down on commute times, decrease traffic congestion, require less space at offices and let employees work flexible hours.
Silicon Valley companies such as Yahoo have been well-known for relaxed, employee-friendly policies on scheduling and other perks.
According to a survey by WorldatWork, a non-profit human resources association, seven to eight of every 10 people surveyed said the flexibility to work at home was "a positive or extremely positive effect" on their job engagement, motivation and satisfaction.
Yahoo's decision makes sense for Yahoo but not for many other companies, says Vivke Wadhwa, a researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., who studies workplace innovation.
"Yahoo is one messed-up company right now. The culture is in awful shape -- values, loyalty, you name it. Marissa (Mayer, new CEO) inherited a complete mess," Wadhwa says. By bringing everyone in-house, she'll be able to reprogram the company's work culture while also easily jettisoning a lot of deadwood employees who aren't doing much now. You can't do that weed-and-feed with people at home."
Working at home is very popular in Silicon Valley, he says, but it works best when the work being done has well-defined outcomes such as reports completed, computer code written or sales made. It doesn't work for innovative jobs where it's all about brainstorming. "If they're writing computer code, they have clearly defined deliverables," he says.