Lots of people have written about Marissa Mayer’s startling decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo over the past few weeks.  I think the best articles are the ones that defend her decision.  Here are my two favorites:

Marissa Mayer Is No Fool, by Michael Schrage

Yahoo kills telecommuting. Three cheers for Marissa Mayer! by Penelope Trunk

The former HR director in me wants to log a small protest in the name of flexible work-life programs and their role in employee happiness.  But Schrage and Trunk make some excellent points.  Schrage says he has no doubt that Mayer’s decision was data-driven; she looked at what telecommuting was doing to productivity and decided it was a practice that wasn’t working for Yahoo.  And Trunk adds that we have always known that teams collaborate better when they are face-to-face and everyone is just too afraid to say so.  A common theme in Trunk’s blogs is that you can’t really have work-life balance and also be a top performer with a big career. You have to choose, and Mayer has chosen a big career; it’s only fair, Trunk says, for Mayer to demand that she work with others who have made the same choice.

The fascinating research of Alex “Sandy” Pentland, which I have blogged about before, bears this out.  Pentland is the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and you can read about his many research projects on his web page.  Pentland’s group studied team communication patterns by placing little sensor badges on team members across many industries and collecting data for a period of weeks.   They correlated certain communication patterns with performance metrics, including:

  • Energy: the number and measure of exchanges between team members, with face-to-face exchanges measuring highest in quality (over phone and electronic)
  • Engagement: the distribution of energy between team members.  “If all members of a team have relatively equal and reasonably high energy with all other members, engagement is extremely strong. Teams that have clusters of members who engage in high-energy communication while other members do not participate don’t perform as well. ”

Obviously what this research tells us is that teams who are co-located and spend lots of time together perform better.  And really, didn’t we know that already?  I agree with Trunk, who says that Mayer is just having the guts to mandate what we already know will work.  It’s not that there isn’t a place in this world for people who need more balance; it’s just that companies have the right to say whether they will be that place or not.

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