She started with free food and new smartphones for every employee, borrowing from the playbook of Google, her employer until last year. Now, though, Yahoo has made a surprise move: abolishing its work-at-home policy and ordering everyone to work in the office.
A memo explaining the policy change, from the company's human resources department, says face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture -- a hallmark of Google's approach to its business.
In trying to get back on track, Yahoo is taking on one of the country's biggest workplace issues: whether the ability to work from home, and other flexible arrangements, leads to greater productivity or inhibits innovation and collaboration.
Across the country, companies such as Aetna, Booz Allen Hamilton and Zappos.com are confronting these trade-offs as they compete to attract and retain the best employees.
Bank of America, for example, which had a popular program for working remotely, decided late last year to require employees in certain roles to come back to the office.
Employees, especially younger ones, expect to be able to work remotely, analysts say. And overall the trend is toward greater workplace flexibility.
Still, said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray &amp; Christmas, an outplacement and executive coaching firm, "A lot of companies are afraid to let their workers work from home some of the time or all of the time because they're afraid they'll lose control."
Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm.
"If you want innovation, then you need interaction," he said. "If you want productivity, then you want people working from home."
Reflecting these tensions, Yahoo's policy change has unleashed a storm of criticism from advocates for workplace flexibility who say it is a retrograde approach, particularly for those who care for young children or aging parents outside of work.
A Yahoo spokeswoman, Sara Gorman, declined to comment.
The company's memo, written by Jackie Reses, director of human resources at Yahoo, and published on All Things D, a blog on digital issues, said: "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."
In part, the memo looks like an effort to bring a Google spirit to Yahoo, said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners who covers both companies.
Still, Google, as well as Facebook, does allow people to work remotely on a case-by-case basis. But both companies also strongly stress in-person collaboration.
Standard Silicon Valley perks like cafeterias with free food, shuttle buses, gyms, ice cream parlors and dry cleaners not only make employees' lives easier, but keep them on campus during the day and promote contact with other employees. Nearly all tech companies have desks packed tightly together without walls and communal work areas with sofas and beanbags.
Zappos, the e-commerce company owned by Amazon.com, previously allowed some customer service agents to work from home, but now has a rule against working remotely. The company locks all office doors except one so employees are forced to run into more people on the way out, and budgets fewer than 100 square feet per employee, versus the standard 120 square feet or more.
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