Like Bees to Honey: Yahoo! and the Future of Mobile Work
Jim Williamson in Focus Work, Focus on Focus, Mobility, Technology, Workplace Design, Yahoo and Mobility

Photo credit: Gensler

Yahoo!’s decision to cancel its mobile work policy and require all employees to keep hours at a company office hit the news cycle like a ton of bricks. How could a brand that is at the forefront of developing the technologies which enable mobile work deprive its workforce of this option? On the surface, Yahoo!’s policy may seem somewhat incongruous with the products it offers, but it’s actually very much in sync with a trend I’ve seen developing in the tech world: the desire to get employees back to the office and under one roof.

Think of the mobile work option like a giant pendulum. When expanded Internet access and the prevalence of portable electronic devices became standard, the pendulum swung towards allowing employees to work from wherever they chose to do so. The tech sector was one of the first industries to adopt and encourage alternative workstyles, like mobile work, as strategic tools. A scarcity of talent pushed then-new companies such as Yahoo! and Google to offer prospective employees telework, mobility and activity based settings. These strategies boosted recruitment and aided real estate and workplace strategy.

Now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Tech companies such as Yahoo! and Nokia are bringing their workers back to the office rather than pushing them to work wherever they feel. I have a few thoughts on this development and the ramifications it holds for workplace design…

If your work environment isn’t attracting your employees, moving the needle towards your vision, values, strategies and goals you probably SHOULD send your employees home to work.

What will really be the success factor for Yahoo!’s bold move is less the policy change and more the place changes that they need to make. How are they going to change their work environment for the sudden influx of so many people? And most importantly, how are they going to provide the kinds of settings that I bet their people were looking for in non-office locations?

“I really need to get work done so I’m going to work from home tomorrow” is a phrase I hear all the time from my clients – about themselves and their colleagues. Yet not many companies are actively strategizing to make their place of work where “real” work gets done.

Collaboration, as Yahoo! asserts, is critical to innovation. But so is individual work. Many companies have embraced mobility less for work/life balance or to help people work effectively, but as an opportunity to drive down real estate costs: putting more people in less space and getting rid of critical workplace elements that help people focus when they need to. And then people embrace mobility for their own purposes, turning to non-work locations for privacy, quiet, and other things that let them focus. And then the workplace is empty. And so on and so on.

Yahoo!’s making their move for business reasons that matter to them and so it’s not right or wrong at this point. I'd suggest that they follow up on their bold move with another one: rather than simply make your employees come in to work, make the workplace work better for your people and they will follow…like bees to honey.

Jim brings recognized experience in workplace strategy, project management, design, and implementation. He also has extensive knowledge of alternative office concepts such as hoteling and other high performance workplace solutions. He has provided strategic master planning, resource development and allocation, quality assurance, and standards development and maintenance for a wide range of clients. Contact him at
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