Flexible working – Can you put the genie back in the bottle?

The newly appointed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is trying just this and shocked the business world and her staff with the announcement last week banning the practice of working from home. The staff memo, which was leaked to the press, read “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.  That is why it is crucial 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.  Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

Another US organisation Best Buy has taken a similar decision this week; is this, the beginning of a new trend?  Maybe the question we should be asking is why would you want to put the genie back in the bottle?  As Richard Branson wrote this week in his blog “choice empowers people and makes for a more content workforce.”  In the case of Yahoo & Best Buy the motivation to change policy could be seen as an extreme way of fixing poor historical management issues & an attempt to force a turn round of the companies’ performance.

Their decisions go against what we are told employees want.  As reported in an earlier blog surveys show that flexibility is increasingly high on the criteria list for choosing employers; experts in the field tell us “it’s about flexibility – flexible time, flexible place”*.  Many would argue that the work life divide is becoming less and less distinct and because of that the number of flexible work initiatives in place will increase rather than decrease.

Legislation in the UK may also trigger an increase in flexible working if the new Children and Families Bill is passed by Parliament.  This will extend the right to all employees (regardless of caring responsibilities) to request flexible working hours from 2014. As reported in the Financial Times on Monday this potential change in legislation is also dividing employers; many are concerned about the practicalities and yet others see it as a key component of being or becoming an employer of choice.  One thing is for sure, the debate will continue!

Source: Financial Times, * BBC

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