Yahoo! slammed by O2 and Transport Minister over flexible working

Yahoo's move to restrict its employees from flexible working has provoked widespread surprise. The online giant says 'speed and quality’ are being sacrificed through flexible working, but the move runs counter to a growing trend towards mobile working across most industries and has sparked negative reaction from O2 and Transport Minister Norman Baker.

In a memo sent out by Yahoo!’s HR director, which was labelled “PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION – DO NOT FORWARD”, and promptly forwarded to news site All Things D, employees were told:

“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 critical that we are all present in our offices.

“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together. Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices.”

Speaking yesterday at an event to promote Anywhere Working, which is a consortium of companies that joined in 2011 to encourage flexible working, including Microsoft, Transport for London and Nokia, Transport Minister Norman Baker MP told Computerworld UK that Yahoo!’s decision was regrettable.

“I think that’s a very unfortunate position to take and I think it’s out of line with the evidence which has been shown by the other companies that have embraced this agenda,” he said.

“I would encourage them to be a bit more forward looking.”

Baker and Nicola Hodson, general manager for the public sector at Microsoft, were speaking yesterday to promote the launch of Anywhere Working Week, which is taking place between 18th and 22nd of March and aims to encourage organisations to reconsider the way they work.

“Microsoft is really at the leading edge of this, we implemented flexible working a few years ago and we have found the payback to be a 240 percent internal rate of return and we saved $212 million (£140 million) in the first year,” said Hodson.

“Another example is Wakefield Council, which introduced a work smart programme and has reduced office space by 44 percent, saving £225,000 in annual transport and has reduced staff absences by giving them more flexibility.”

Norman Baker also said that if flexible working is going to become ‘mainstream’, it needs to be encouraged by big businesses.

“No matter what I say as a government minister, when businesses and big international businesses with credibility say: this makes commercial sense, it saves us money – that’s going to make a big difference to whether people outside listen to this particular message,” he said.

“The savings to be made are significant. What’s the downside? This is something everyone should be embracing.”

The news that Yahoo! is actively discouraging such policies also surprised O2, which has completely altered the way its employees work since the London Olympics last year. It recently released research which found the there is a huge disconnect between what employers believe they are providing employees with in terms of flexible working, and what employees believe they are being provided with.

“In failing to embrace a flexible working culture, companies like Yahoo are missing out on huge benefits, both for their business and their staff. Our own research of over 2,000 UK employees and over 400 employers shows that three quarters of people say they are most productive when they can change when and where they work and one in ten even rate flexi-working as a more important benefit than their holiday allowance and salary,” said Ben Dowd, O2 Business Director.

“The changes we’ve seen at O2 since our flexible working pilot speak for themselves. In just one month our staff saved 100,000 miles of commuting, 30 tonnes of CO2, and £20,000 in fuel – and productivity when flexi-working has doubled.”

He added: “It’s not about sacrificing face time with co-workers, but empowering staff with the right mix of technology, policy and education, to help them shape their own definition of the 9 to 5.”

Yahoo!’s move is at odds with a growing trend that is occurring across many industries. This is even true of the public sector, which is often perceived as being a late adopter for new technology trends.

According to data to be published in Socitm’s IT Trends report tomorrow, about 80 percent of public sector organisation now use flexible working as an approach to tackle austerity. Socitm, which is the UK’s professional association for public sector IT management, found a 75 percent uptake in formalised home working in public sector organisations, as well as a 74 percent uptake in mobile working.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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