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Yahoo, Call Home

You don’t have to say a word; I know what you what you want to ask me.
You want to know whether I write this column by pounding a keyboard in a soulless office cubical, or I’m pounding back brewskis in my man cave, tucked comfortably in my Barcolounger Brougham with the built-in armrest cooler.

Home or office, I’m not going to tell you, but I do understand why you ask. You just learned that the Internet colossus that is Yahoo has decided to reel in all those workers who had previously been allowed to work at home in their jam-jams. According to an imperial edict from the company’s new leader, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s open-door policy has been shut.

Claire Cain Miller and Catherine Rampell covered the Yahoo story for The New York Times, and I’m sure they were tethered to their desks as they typed, “Yahoo is taking on one of the country’s biggest workplace issues: whether the ability to work from home, and other flexible arrangements, leads to greater productivity or inhibits innovation and collaboration.”

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Though the jury is out on whether working from home results in greater productivity, we know from experience that it definitely does lead to greater opportunities to watch Ice Road Truckers and play Final Fantasy XII without worrying about the prying eyes of a supervisor.

Of course, Yahoo management is not accusing its home-schooled employees of malingering. As The Times reported, “the company’s memo, written by Jackie Reses, director of human resources at Yahoo, and published on All Things D, a blog on digital issues, said: “Some of the best discussions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

This is clearly nuts. The only discussions I have ever heard in the cafeteria have to do with sports, Kardashians and inter-mural hanky-panky. Which brings up an important point — with everyone working at home, the company saves all the time that would otherwise be wasted on office romances. Talk about boosting productivity!

The work from home situation may not mean a lot to a person like you, who doesn’t work at home and doesn’t work in the office, either, but according to The Times, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “24 percent of employed Americans report working from home at least some hours each week.”

(I know what you are thinking — will somebody please tell me how I can get a job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics? You’re a genius at making up numbers, as anyone who has ever reviewed one of your expense reports can testify.)

Even during the recession, more employers allowed their employees to work remotely. The Families and Work Institute came up with this factoid, which Ellen Galinsky, its president and co-founder, “attributed to companies’ desire to reduce real estate costs, carbon footprints and commuting times.”

This is good news for you since your carbon footprint looks like something produced by a Sasquatch.

Joining the no-homework trend is Zappos, which not only called back its workers but “locks all office doors except one so employees are forced to run into more people on the way out.” I don’t see why the Zapptoids left that one door open. Why not lock in all your employees, board up the windows, and turn off the air conditioning. Once every 24 hours, management could throw in raw hamburger. You’ll see some interaction then, I guarantee it.

I prefer the policy embraced by Aetna. The company not only lets 47 percent of its workers telecommute, it actually provides home-based workers with locked file cabinets and shredders. It’s a sweet deal. Tip over those file cabinets, and you’ve got a class-A footrest. And the company shredder is perfect for shredding extra Parmesan for your pizza.

Time will tell if Yahoo’s new policy will bring results, but right now I’m afraid the company is in for real trouble as employees who have been happily working from home find themselves stuffed into cubicles, smothered by supervisors and completely vulnerable to predatory “chatters” who roam the halls just wanting to interact.

If “Back to the Office” madness hits your company, I suggest you throw an antimacassar over your Aeron chair, keep lighted bayberry candles on your file cabinet, and for heaven’s sake, continue to work in your jam-jams. It may not be cozy, but I have a feeling you’ll soon be heading home, permanently.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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