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Marissa Mayer Defends No-Telecommuting Call: Should Firms Follow?

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 23, 2013 1:45 PM

Blame it on a fascination with leaning in before Lean In became a thing, but we find female executives pretty fascinating. In a male-dominated corporate world that doesn't seem to grasp the concept of a work-life balance, we (sometimes falsely) believe that the women in charge will create more family-friendly workplaces.

Then, a prominent exec like Marissa Mayer takes reins at Yahoo! and rescinds work from home privileges.

Earlier this year, we described that move as the "WORST. IDEA. EVER." But, after listening to Mayer's latest defense of the strategy, we can concede that there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to work from home policies.

At the Great Place to Work conference last week in Los Angeles, Mayer addressed the decision to require Yahoo! employees to report to the office, saying that telecommuting is "not what's right for Yahoo right now," adding "It was wrongly perceived as an industry narrative," Fortune reports.

Mayer argued that "people are more productive when they're alone ... but they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together."

Okay, so collaboration is critical to Yahoo!, which has been struggling for some time, but so is productivity.

Writing for Forbes, Victor Lipman observed, "Human nature being what it is, if a person is working from home and hardly anyone is ever checking in on him or her, there's a reasonable chance there will be, shall we say, less rigor in the operation." Rumor has it that falling productivity among Yahoo! telecommuters had become a problem, USA Today reports.

So how can you tell if telecommuting is right for your law firm? It depends on the type of work you're doing.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Stanford University researcher who studies workplace innovation, told USA Today that telecommuting works best with employees who have well-defined outcomes such as reports completed, computer code written or sales made; it doesn't work for innovative that center around brainstorming.

If your firm can quantify productivity in terms of daily or weekly deliverables, then telecommuting might remain a viable option for attracting top-tier talent. If you actually need all hands on deck at all times, you might want to follow Mayer's lead and eliminate telecommuting opportunities.

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