March 23, 2023

Yahoo Orders Home Workers Back to the Office

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 like Aetna, Booz Allen Hamilton and 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 over all the trend is toward greater workplace flexibility.

Still, said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray 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. Their dismay is heightened by the fact that they hoped Ms. Mayer, who became chief executive at 37 while pregnant with her first child, would make the business world more hospitable for working parents.

“The irony is that she has broken the glass ceiling, but seems unwilling for other women to lead a balanced life in which they care for their families and still concentrate on developing their skills and career,” said Ruth Rosen, a professor emerita of women’s history at the University of California.

But not only women take advantage of workplace flexibility policies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly as many men telecommute.

The bureau says 24 percent of employed Americans report working from home at least some hours each week. And 63 percent of employers said last year that they allowed employees to work remotely, up from 34 percent in 2005, according to a study by the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit group studying the changing work force.

During the recession, the institute expected employers to demand more face time, but instead found that 12 percent increased workplace flexibility, said Ellen Galinsky, its president and co-founder. She attributed this to companies’ desire to reduce real estate costs, carbon footprints and commuting times.

Technologies developed in Silicon Valley, from video chat to instant messaging, have made it possible for employees across America to work remotely. Yet like Yahoo, many tech companies believe that working in the same physical space drives innovation.

A Yahoo spokeswoman, Sara Gorman, declined to comment, saying only that the company did not publicly discuss internal matters.

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Bits Blog: Motorola Introduces First Phones of Its Google Era

On Wednesday, Motorola's chief, Dennis Woodside, introduced three smartphones under the Razr brand that will become available for Verizon customers.Brendan Mcdermid/ReutersOn Wednesday, Motorola’s chief, Dennis Woodside, introduced three smartphones under the Razr brand that will become available for Verizon customers.

After being quiet for nearly a year, Motorola Mobility, recently acquired by Google, is returning to the mobile market with three new smartphones.

At a news conference in New York on Wednesday, the company introduced three smartphones under its Razr brand that will become available for Verizon customers. It said the focus of these phones was speed, because they could connect to Verizon’s faster fourth-generation network. And they have larger screens than their primary rival, the Apple iPhone.

Google announced the acquisition of Motorola Mobility in August 2011, and the transaction closed in May. The companies remained mum about their plans until last month, when Motorola announced that it was laying off 4,000 employees, the start of a revamping under its new owner.

During the transition, a Google executive, Dennis Woodside, became Motorola’s new leader. In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Woodside said that the merging of the two companies would take mobile innovation to new heights.

The Droid RAZR HD

“We really have two innovative, deeply technical engineering companies that are coming together,” Mr. Woodside said. He said the plan for Motorola was to build excellent products that took advantage of its engineering heritage.

The new phones, the Droid Razr HD, the Razr M and the Razr Maxx HD, have a crucial component that reflects Motorola’s legacy as a radio company: the cellular modems inside them, which connect with newer, faster fourth-generation LTE networks, were made by Motorola.

And because Motorola helped develop this radio technology, the company is better equipped with the knowledge to design 4G LTE phones with long battery life, Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of product management at Motorola, said in an interview. The Droid Razr HD, for example, has a 4.7-inch screen with 16 hours of talk time, which is twice as long as many similar phones.

The phones all use Google’s Android operating system, raising questions about whether the company will become a legal target for Apple, which recently won against Samsung in one of many patent disputes related to smartphones. Apple accused Samsung of copying several aspects of the iPhone with its Android smartphones.

Mr. Woodside said he was confident Motorola would not face similar problems.

“We’ve always been pushing the envelope of technology,” Mr. Woodside said, referring to Motorola. “It’s not a culture that copies things.”

The Razr M, which has a 4.3-inch screen, will be released next week for $100 with a two-year contract from Verizon. The company did not reveal prices or release dates for the other two phones.

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With New Smartphones, High Hopes for Nokia and Microsoft Union

Nokia’s chief executive, Stephen A. Elop, presented the Lumia 800, a 420 euro ($584) touch-screen device, and the Lumia 710, a 270 euro handset at a company product introduction. Both devices are being sold in six European countries and will be sold later this year in parts of Asia. Other smartphones are planned for the United States, but not until early next year.

Analysts said the Nokia smartphones, the result of an eight-month collaboration with Microsoft, could also help Microsoft extend its dominant computer software business into the cellphone and mobile device market. The software has received positive reviews, but few handset makers are using it.

The new lineup aims to revive Nokia’s tarnished reputation as an innovative force in mobile phones, an industry it pioneered and dominated until Apple and Google, helped by more user-friendly software, wrested control of the smartphone business four years ago.

“Nokia really needed this to happen today, and this is a new start for the company,” said Pete Cunningham, an analyst based in London with the research firm Canalys. “This helps stop the bleeding and will help Nokia get back in the game.”

Mr. Elop, a former senior Microsoft executive who made the decision to enter the software alliance with his former employer in February, said the new Lumia devices showed that Nokia, which is based in Espoo, Finland, was delivering on his promise of a turnaround. “This signals our intent to be today’s leader in smartphone design and craftsmanship,” Mr. Elop told 3,000 people attending the company’s Nokia World conference in London.

During an interview, Mr. Elop said Nokia was planning to push its smartphones into the United States, where it has struggled, early next year. He said Nokia was in advanced talks with the four major American operators, which together sell more than 90 percent of all cellphones in the country. Nokia’s new smartphones for the United States, Mr. Elop said, will run on high-speed 4G networks that use a technology called LTE, or Long Term Evolution, as well as on older 3G networks.

They will also be made to run on networks that use the C.D.M.A. standard, which is used by the market leader, Verizon Wireless.

Mr. Elop said that Nokia was listening closely to phone operators and would be flexible in meeting their demands. “If you do the math, you may come to the conclusion that clearly we are in good conversations with those operators,” he said

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is using its business connections — its server software powers a lot of cloud computing centers used by network operators — to help Nokia re-establish relationships with American operators, he said. “When we enter a market, it is not just dipping your toe in the market, but coming in with the appropriate levels of investment by us,” Mr. Elop said. “It takes work. It takes money. We are being very deliberate.”

With Lumia, Nokia aims to beat Apple and Google by designing handsets that are easier to use than the two best-selling smartphones, the Apple iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S II, which runs Google’s Android software. The Lumia 800’s start screen is a wheel of interactive tiles. By clicking a tile, users are taken directly to a preferred task, like text messaging a friend, tracking a sports team or listening to a favorite song, without having to enter and close applications.

The software interface, developed by Microsoft but refined by Nokia, is designed to remove as much laborious touch-screen tapping as possible. Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia’s head designer, said the smartphones used fluid, rather than linear, design logic, which eliminated many of the intermediary steps required with the array of static app icons that Apple and Google’s Android favor.

Shares of Nokia closed at 4.80 euros, down 0.6 percent, in European trading.

One investor said that Nokia and Microsoft must still overcome skepticism about the venture. “I have seen no evidence that Nokia and Microsoft are making a game of it — yet,” said Jeffrey P. Davis, the chief investment officer at Lee Munder Capital, an investment fund manager based in Boston with $5.4 billion under management. “Android is winning the mind space on the consumer front. The business world will probably follow.”

Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, estimated that Nokia was paying $15 to Microsoft for each Windows smartphone it produced, less than the estimated $20 other handset makers must pay. The new Windows phone lineup, he said, has the potential to help restore Nokia’s fortunes in the smartphone market.

“One thing I have learned in this business is to never say never,” Mr. Mawston said.

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