CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent announcement that Yahoo! employees could no longer work at home has resulted in a tsunami of commentary both pro and con. While “betrayal” is way too strong a word, it seems likely that both Yahoo! employees and commentators at least unconsciously expected something different from a relatively young woman with her own young child. People may well have expected her to be more hip about the whole working at home thing.

On the other hand, Mayer did come from Google, which apparently has a goal of making its headquarters so all-purpose and womblike that employees basically never have to leave. There are meals, snacks, companionship, showers, lectures…why go home?

One disappointing aspect about Mayer’s decision is the revelation that apparently it was based on insufficient virtual private network (VPN) utilization at Yahoo! In other words, the telecommuters weren’t logged in enough. This is an odd measure for a couple of reasons. For example, too many VPNs (not yours, of course) are so clunky and complicated that workers tend to find ways to do their work without them.

But here’s what’s really dumb: measuring employee performance by how long they’re logged in. That kind of mindset harkens back to the bad old days of believing that employees had to come in to the office because otherwise you couldn’t watch them. What happened to management by objective and measuring people by their accomplishments?

People tend to adjust their behavior based on how their performance is measured. If the measure is now going to be “time online” rather than “tasks completed,” more employees will simply leave their computers logged in over the VPN while they go to lunch, sleep at night, and so on.  That would increase VPN use unnecessarily — and the costs associated with it.

Let’s have the lesson from Yahoo!’s decision not be that “telework is bad,” but “let’s find meaningful ways of measuring accomplishment.”

Related Posts