Yahoo!’s Telecommuting Fail and MilSpouses


There’s no doubt that the growing acceptance of telecommuting is the military spouse’s best friend. But what if that trend is about to turn around? What hope is there then for the career minded among us?

Yahoo! last week announced that they will be eliminating all telework, instead requiring everyone to work in person in their offices. The memo, sent by the HR department with the blessing of the company’s new CEO Marissa Mayer, said “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home … We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Which is crazy, because study after study shows that not only does telecommuting increase productivity and lower stress among workers, people who telecommute tend to work more hours than those that don’t.

These two excellent commentaries – one here and one here — bemoan Mayer’s decision on behalf of all women who are trying to balance work and family. But I want to focus on what a terrible decision this is for one specific (though small) portion of the workforce: military spouses.

Telework is the big Hope of the Future career wise for military spouses. The White House recognizes this, and included a large quantity of telework jobs in a roll-out last year of new employers for the Military Spouse Employment Initiative program to “meet spouses where they are,” according to the First Lady.

We know that if we can land a job locally with an employer that will allow us to telecommute after our next PCS we have it made. No more worrying about finding a gig at our next duty station. No more concerns about what we’ll do if we can’t find a job at all. Telecommuting is the answer.

But when a Fortune 500 company makes a very public human resources decision the way Yahoo! has other companies are likely to follow its lead. Even when all the research points in a different direction. Even when employees can prove that they are better at what they do when they do it from home.

According to the memo, Yahoo!’s decision is aimed at the ability to have face time for impromptu meetings and other happenstance collaboration, like running into someone in the cafeteria. (One has to wonder what kind of terrible communication those who telework for Yahoo! must have with the office to elicit this kind of a mandate).

If companies follow Yahoo!’s lead, the only telecommuting jobs that will be available to military spouses (or anyone else for that matter) are for call centers or tech support where collaboration and face time are not important – not for jobs that can turn into careers.

And military spouses tell us that they want actual careers – not just jobs. They want to use their hard-earned degree or certificate to build their resume in a field they are passionate about. And they want to be able to use telecommuting to do it when necessary.

Maybe I’m biased. I’m writing to you from my cluttered home office desk about 700 miles from my employer’s office. This arrangement allows me to be a stay-at-home mom and keep my kids out of daycare while still working about 30 hours a week. Traditional journalism jobs are few and far between – and potential employers in the field frown deeply when it becomes clear that you probably won’t be around long enough to build a good local source list. Without my telecommute job, which has followed me through four states, I would absolutely be jobless.

And it’s not just about my home’s proximity to my corporation. It’s about my need for flexibility. Without a spouse to rely on consistently I, like many military spouses, am both Mom and Dad a lot of the time. That means pick-ups, drop-offs, games, parties, errands, laundry, dinner, appointments and everything else is on me. The ability to keep non-traditional office hours or take a break to pop dinner on the stove is key to me making working work.

Of course not all telecommuting jobs come with flexible work hours. But they all come with ability to walk out my office door, pop in a load of laundry, and walk back in. Call it the work-from-home version of a water cooler break.

Telecommuters must wage an uphill battle as it is to prove that their time at home is more productive than time in the office would be. Since we’re already experts at proving the worth of hiring military spouses to start with, the best way I can see for us to counteract the Yahoo! decision is to continue to prove to our employers that we are valuable, productive employees.

The proof is in the pudding or, in this case, the work flow. And the burden is on us to show that we are valuable from afar. So for those of us who telecommute already, let’s remember this: every time we file a report ahead of schedule or turn in an extra assignment weeks before it is due because we are just THAT productive from the corner in our kitchen we score one for those hoping to work from home in the future.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • sabrinacking

    Yes and then again…no. I have a love hate relationship with Marissa Mayer…it’s an A by the way, not an E…
    First, she is one of the only women in the world in the hotseat, especially of child bearing age. So she is an idol to manyof glass ceiling crushing. Having said that…the question remains whether she has any ethical responsibility as a woman toward other working women. I think Feminists would like to argue she does and this, building a nursery in her office when Yahoo has no onsite daycare for it’s employees and only taking 2 weeks maternity leave because she can afford a nanny…sets a dangerous tone for working women.
    The problem with tht assumption in this particular case of telecommuting is that a CEO has to be able assess the pulse of her workforce and org structure and adjust fire to be profitable. To suggest she owes it to women, at the expense of a struggling Yahoo’s future to allow Work From Home is the worst sort of BS.
    In her summation, her org structure has produced dead weight. In lieu of firing people, or laying them off she is allowing them to self refer really.

  • sabrinacking

    So I write a response and it’s edited off…see this makes my point about how women are to one another. Her name is Marissa MAyer…with an A. That aside, we can argue whether she has an ethical responsibility toward the entire global female workforce or not all day. However, we are not at Yahoo…if she surmises this the best decision for her organizational culture…as CEO of Yahoo…who are we to judge her.
    Are men told they are responsible for the treatment of the entire male workforce, no…
    This sort of judgement being thrown by women at one of the premier female executives of our day is ludicrous. She has no responsibility to military wives. Any CEO worth their salt won’t just ad hoc follow her or any lead. She made a decision specific to Yahoo, we are talking about programmers, marketing professionals etc who are collaborators on large projects…not journalists, which is a largely solo, therefore easily tandem activity.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Hi Sabrina —

      Our commenting system comes with a moderation program that flags some messages to be approved before they are made public. Unfortunately in order to have the system correctly flag messages that are actually bad (contain profanity, for example) and/or spam, sometimes normal comments get caught in the process. It’s just part of having an auto-system instead of doing it manually. Your comment was one of the ones that got caught, and you can see it’s now above. No one edited your comment. It was a computer thing.

      While it is her job to know what’s best for her company, she is setting a precedent that other, smaller, companies may blindly follow. That is my problem with this.

      I would also note that journalism is harder solo than you think. There’s plenty of collaboration that happens between journalists sharing sources and stories — time after time I have landed and chased a good story as a result of the work of my colleagues. Can it be done from home? Yes. Is it easy or even ideal? No. But I make it work.

      And, finally, thank you for your error catch. We appreciate it.

  • remoteworker

    Having had the opportunity to work both in the traditional work environment and now with a job that actually requires telecommuting due to the geographical requirements of the job, I have to agree that sabrinacking is right in her comments: the CEO has the right to determine the best needs for the company. There are potential benefits to the company and to the employee in both respects; each need to decide how to best fulfill their own needs and align accordingly.

  • mel

    I agree with the other posters that a CEO has the right to determine what is needed for the good of the company. One thing that stuck out for me, when reading one of the linked stories in the above article, was the idea of prioritizing work above family in the same way that men have been expected to do. It seems that to attain complete equality, women may be expected to do the same and not receive special treatment to attend family issues. Back in the day when men worked and women stayed home, the men could focus 100% on their careers and could also enjoy a good family life because their wife made sure family and home were taken care of. Now, we have both parents in the work force and who is going to make the compromise when both want a career and family. It seems to me that many women want equality in the work force but they also want to be able to give less to their employer when there are conflicts between family and work. I don’t see how that contributes to creating equality in the workplace. The Yahoo CEO appears to be willing to make the sacrifices needed to focus on her position and her goal to improve the success of the company.

    • sabrinacking

      I think on this you are spot on. It is a myth that anyone “has it all”. I have worked second fiddle to C suite men and Senior Officers in the Army as an Executive Assistant an then Operations Manager all of my now dead since I live in Siberia…read Ft Drum…career. I also spent the last four years before we were what seems like banished to Siberia this summer as an entrepreneur of the actual heavy investment in property, national traveling, 80 hour a week variety, the you owe so much in self employment taxes even above and beyond what you already paid quarterly…the IRS gives you installment payments variety…and let me tell you…NO ONE in actual career, not job…male or female…”has it all”. Something, always has to give. People can judge me all day long for keeping a career my husbands entire career and juggling kids etc. We are all hard wired differently and have different needs and intellectual capabilities. I don’t judge women for being SAHMs, they shouldn’t judge me for not being one. Having said that…the inbetweeners, bitching and moaning we should get to “have it all” are clueless. All of my male peers miss little league, first steps, Drs. Appts, et all. In fact, the thing keeping most women out of the C Suite is this very loud vocal position by some women that they feel “owed” a career, and that an organization has to accommodate them…this has never been the case for men..and if you want to play in the big boy’s world, you need to get your big girl pants on.

    • spouse2000

      Don’t have two parents in the work force – work on your budget – if you have children take the time to raise them.

      • mel

        I’m not for or against both parents working, it’s really none of my business how they live their lives. What I am saying, is that if both parents want their careers to be a priority and they also want a family, then one or both will have to compromise and take care of family issues. Whomever is chosen to compromise may jeopardize the career path they are currently travelling and may have to wait until a later time to fulfill their passion.

        • sabrinacking

          Mel…Ecclesiastes is probably the greatest rule for a military spouse in their career: To Everything a Season…

  • sabrinacking

    Your children do in fact grow up…then what will you or your spouse do with themselves? The idea that women can just jump into the work force after their husband’s military careers or after their children grow up is a flat out LIE. I stayed home when my children were infants and toddlers doing various work from home schemes..once a child is in school full time…no, it does not need a stay at home parent. Both of mine are in Talented and Gifted, honor roll, varsity athletics…and the eldest was ASB President and is heading to the Navy this summer…I doubt my working once he was of school age deterred anything in his childrearing.

  • Rquick

    Honestly hasnt yahoo kind of gone the way of myspace? Its not a real contender anymore. Telecommuting was really one of the more forward thinking things it had going for it IMO. I feel like this is two steps back for everyone and it is a totally dated way of thinking. I think its going to come back and bite MM on the ass.