Term Sheet

The latest on private equity, M&A, deals and movements — from Wall Street to Silicon Valley

Don't worry, the ban on telecommuting won't become a trend

March 7, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

First Yahoo, then Best Buy. Will your company be next to tell employees they can't work from home? It's not likely.

working-from-home

FORTUNE –Best Buy followed Yahoo this week by  ending its work from anywhere policy, but that doesn't mean there's a new trend in corporate America. Unless you're at a struggling company desperate to turn business around, working from home is here to stay.

The changes at Best Buy (BBY) and Yahoo (YHOO) are unique; they come amid hard times in which both companies have tapped new CEOs to turn things around. Best Buy, like other retailers, has been losing sales to online rivals such as Amazon (AMZN). Last March, the consumer electronic big box chain announced a major restructuring that includes closing stores, cutting jobs and trimming hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.

Yahoo is also orchestrating a closely watched turnaround. Its revenues have declined in the past few years as companies like Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) garner more users and advertising dollars.

MORE: Why layoffs are for lazy corporate overseers

Like it or not, both companies are looking to change their basic corporate cultures by getting employees to work -- where else? -- at the office. Under CEO Hubert Joly, who joined the company last August, Best Buy said earlier this week it will kill its Results Only Work Environment, which allowed employees to work wherever they wanted, including home. The chain's 4,000 non-store employees could still work out of the office, but now they will need a manager's approval. Similarly, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who was tapped for the top spot last July, instituted a policy last month that says employees could no longer work from home.

Years ago, the announcements might not have been such a big deal. But now that working remotely seems almost routine, the changes have unleashed endless outrage. Whatever critics are saying, Best Buy and Yahoo aren't necessarily against employees working from home. They are troubled companies taking big measures to turn things around. It's hard to effect change when so many employees don't come into the office. And as Slate's Matt Yglesias suggested, the end of work from home policies may really just be a back-handed way to lay off unproductive employees and cut costs.

MORE: On Sheryl Sandberg and conquering confidence killers

What's happening at Yahoo and Best Buy won't likely carry over to healthy companies. After all, corporate America still sees the benefits of the home office. As The Wall Street Journal highlighted, more Americans are working from home at least one day a week than ever before. It's a trend that has benefitted corporations by boosting productivity and lowering costs. About 9.4% of U.S. workers, or 13.4 million people, worked at least one day at home per week in 2010, compared with 7%, or 9.2 million, in 1997, according to a Census Bureau report cited by the Journal.

Years from now, if Yahoo and Best Buy turn their businesses around, it may not be that surprising to find their employees back at their home offices.

Join the Conversation
About This Author
Nin-Hai Tseng
Nin-Hai Tseng
Writer, Fortune

Nin-Hai Tseng covers economics and finance. Before joining Fortune, Tseng was a reporter at The Orlando Sentinel and a public affairs associate at GE. She holds an MPA from Columbia University and a BS in Journalism from the University of Florida. She lives in New York City.

Email | @ninhaitseng | RSS

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.