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Yeah, This is the Way to Run a Tech Company in 2013!

Marissa Mayer's pre-weekend memo concerning the fate of all work-from-home employees at Yahoo! (they have to start working in a corporate office come June, or leave the company) has come in for its fair share of criticism--and rightly so. The woman tasked with turning around the failing company has decided that flexible working arrangements slow decision making, reduce efficiency and lower quality. Really? This is her response to making Yahoo an innovative tech leader in the 21st century?

Like many commentators, I am tempted to frame this in the context of working parents, especially given Ms. Mayer's high-profile pregnant-CEO role (a role she didn't choose, but which she must have known she would play). Flexible schedules--including the ability to work from home full time or part time--make it easier to balance work and home life, especially when one bleeds into the other, and that can be especially beneficial for parents (as well as people caring for elderly parents of their own, or very sick spouses, and so on). But employees are also asked "use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration" when doing things like staying home to wait for the cable guy; does that mean everyone should schedule their cable visits for the same day and elect one person to ride along with the installer and let him in to each location? And does it really need pointing out that for people who don't have full-time help at home, waiting for the cable guy isn't really optional, unless you don't want cable? (Maybe this policy would make more sense for Hulu or Netflix.)

Obviously, this is not about parents at all; it is about employees, and how to help them be the most productive, valuable employees they can be.

Study after study shows that people work better, smarter and faster when they have the freedom and flexibility to do so in the ways that work best for them; and when they have time to breathe in between tasks and activities--especially when those tasks require creativity. Not everyone likes working from home, and of course some jobs must be performed in an office or other location. But for those who do favor it, they will almost always tell you they are more productive, higher-performing, much happier and remarkably loyal as a result. Although I understand the desire to have amazing ideas springing fertile from office hallways, we all know the reality of office life is much, much different.

Plus, isn't that what all these new social/collaboration tools are supposed to help with? (Ahem... Yahoo? Maybe you need to rethink what, exactly, makes a web tool relevant today?).

It's also worth noting that Ms. Mayer doesn't appear to be suggesting that, since employees are now expected to act like it's 1955, they will keep the same business hours as their grandparents did: 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday. That might be a trade-off some people are willing to make.