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Marissa Mayer

Yahoo’s recent work from home uproar caused the pundit class to claim that one company’s internal decision was a mandate that that would kill off workplace flexibility and set women back decades across the country. The problem: it wasn’t.

Yahoo made a decision for Yahoo, and other companies may follow suit.  That’s not a bad thing.

Yahoo is a company in flux, one that is trying to save jobs and needs to make changes that will ensure it remains a going concern. Every benefit provided to employees has costs to the employer. At this point, the costs of working from home are too great a risk to the culture Yahoo needs to rebuild.

Years ago, Best Buy was emphasizing a “work from anywhere” concept and now they are fighting for their lives.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence. In my own industry – management consulting – I’ve seen the virtual workplace touted as recruitment benefit turn into a lack of accountability, poor client service and increased turnover.

The benefits of flexible work policies are well-documented.  In less than a decade, the number of people who consider home their primary workplace has doubled, from roughly 1.5 million to 3.1 million. Studies claim work-from-home employees are more productive than those spending their days in the office. They say they help employees balance work with family obligations. And, in an increasingly virtual, interconnected world, remote working is the way of the future.

And, yes, there are people who perform well away from office. An employee I know at a biotech firm saved her company $150 million in taxes while working from home three days a week. She could work from Mars for all her boss cared. But, to be perfectly honest, most people just aren’t as self-motivated.

For every “work from home” policy, there needs to be a corresponding “work from office” plan. In an increasingly connected world, I believe employees are more disconnected than ever.

Offices are central hubs of collaboration, especially as companies mature from start-up-idea-in-the-garage to profitable business. Offices foster cultures that help attract, develop and retain talent; a face-to-face engagement opportunity that is lost when interaction is limited to email and instant messenger.

Look at companies on the various Best Places to Work lists.  Yes, they have work from home policies. They also have employees who choose to come to the office. Employees who don’t lose connection to the company and the community it creates. They’re not part of decisions that affect their jobs, aren’t contributing to growth plans and are left out of water cooler conversations.

I disagree that work from home policies increase work life balance.

In fact, I think it is just the opposite. In the words of Evernote CEO Phil Libin: “To an employee, I would say that [if they’re working at home] understand you’re signing up to work harder.”  There is a correlation between the increased popularity of working from home and the sense of employees that their days are getting longer. It’s valid to say that people working at home may have a harder time turning off work. It is just as valid to say, when they come to the office, they have a hard time turning off home.

This mixture can create dissatisfaction and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Separating home from office physically separates the two mentally as well.  Yes, you can go home and relax after a hard days work.

Yahoo’s policy change may be making waves now, but maybe they’re onto something. In my company, I don’t think anyone should work from home permanently.

It’s a disservice to them as they lose the interaction and relationships they need to succeed, and it’s a disservice to the company as it creates a fractured work culture.

Yes, there are times when employees need to work remotely. But you’d better believe there are more times they’d benefit from being in the office. Don’t be surprised if more companies follow Marissa Mayer’s lead.

Chris Stephenson is co-founder and partner at strategy consulting firm ARRYVE. Follow on Twitter @arryve

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