Government // Mobile & Wireless
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2/28/2013
10:51 AM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point

New CEO Marissa Mayer wants all company employees to work in the office. This isn't about exercising control; it's about setting a tone for change.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is under fire for doing the unthinkable: She's requiring company employees to actually work at the workplace.

That's right. In an era when just about everyone but coal miners and longshoremen thinks telecommuting is their birthright, Mayer is ordering all of Yahoo's 11,500 employees to show up at the office every day, starting in June.

The rationale: Employees become more creative and innovative when they work together face to face rather than over email, IM, video chats, wikis and other virtual means. "Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings," Yahoo HR director Jackie Reses wrote in a memo to employees, obtained and posted by All Things D. "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together."

Besides collaboration, there's another "c" word in play here: culture. It can be tough to build and maintain a strong, cohesive one when a good number of employees (it's at least several hundred in the case of Yahoo) rarely make their way to campus. Perhaps Mayer, a former Google executive on the job at Yahoo for only seven months, found the collegial energy lacking during her early tours of the company's offices.

Or maybe she just decided to shake up the status quo. Clearly, the old way of doing things wasn't paying rich dividends for the Internet company, given its stagnant revenue and earnings. Yahoo's stock price has popped of late -- closing at $21.16 Wednesday, near its four-year high -- only because Mayer has refreshed the company's email, photo-sharing and other products while a revamped board considers acquisitions (mobile, anyone?) as well as divestitures of non-core assets in Asia and elsewhere.

By requiring all employees to work in the office, Mayer is making a statement: We're all in this together. If Yahoo doesn't have your full attention, seek employment elsewhere.

While critics complain that Mayer is being less than hospitable to working parents, especially mothers (Mayer herself gave birth to her first child last fall), she didn't take the job to break glass ceilings or champion work-life balance. Her job is to turn Yahoo around, and she's taking her best shot. This isn't about exercising control; it's about setting a tone for change.

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This situation reminds me of my own experience with new corporate management a bunch of years ago. The CEO of our new parent company observed at the time that our offices felt more like a stodgy bank than a vibrant media company, so he ordered a wholesale remodeling, to an open floor plan. No more rat's nest of offices, but a wide open environment where everyone could see -- and collaborate with -- everyone else with relative ease.

I didn't like the idea. I told our business unit CEO at the time that it wouldn't work: not enough privacy, not enough space for our supplies, too much intermingling of church and state disciplines, too many blasted distractions.

And I was dead wrong (and later admitted as much to our CEO). Yeah, the open office can be loud and distracting at times. But that's part of the beauty. There's a new energy about the place. We collaborate more. We grab people for ad hoc conversations, when before we would have huddled over our computers in solitude. We get to know people we used to just nod at in the hallway.

We needed a shake-up, and most of us couldn't see that at the time. We do in hindsight.

Give Marissa Mayer a little slack. All companies and cultures are different. Mayer has more insight into what Yahoo needs than the work-at-home true believers. Telecommuting policies might serve Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Aetna and myriad other companies (including my own) quite well, but they might not work for Yahoo at this point in its transformation. As the company said in a statement on Tuesday, amid the backlash: "This isn't a broad industry view on working from home -- this is about what is right for Yahoo, right now."

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Johnnythegeek
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Johnnythegeek,
User Rank: Strategist
3/21/2013 | 1:49:30 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I imagine she looked at the results and login information and realized many are not properly communicating with the rest of their teams. Some people are good managing time on their own and know how to work from home. Some simply find the temptation to put things off or become introverted a side effect of working outside the office. Mayer to me simply wants to reset this issues and possibly weed out those who have developed a distaste for working as a team.
Its very possible that down the road those that show they can be productive as a BYOD would possibly be given some more freedom to not have to go to the office everyday?
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
3/14/2013 | 1:15:31 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I don't disagree with either of you. My point is that the expectation of being able to telecommute is selfish. Just because it is possible doesn't mean that the company HAS to allow it. Lorna even proves my point - I can work from home and start my own company, at which point I will leave the current one. Sounds like a good reason to NOT allow it. Especially if I am enabling a new competitor LOL.
mstock4941
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mstock4941,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2013 | 3:18:32 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
It's true: you never said in your article that collaborative tools can't be highly effective or that work at home policies are a bad idea. But I would expect from these pages a more balanced view. For a company like Yahoo image is as equally important - in certain ways - as keeping morale and hopefully employees. A sudden edict which contradicts what the company supposedly stands for is a bit startling and should be called out as such. It's true as well that I wouldn't want anyone to simply harangue the CEO for a decision you (or me personally) wouldn't agree with since we're not in that role. I just hope that her decision produces results, enhances the brand, increases morale and doesn't send good people to other places, like Google or Microsoft.

Thanks for reading and responding to my post!
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
3/4/2013 | 9:04:05 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Come on now. I never, ever said collaborative technology tools can't be highly effective and productive. And I never said work-at-home policies are a bad idea--I noted that my own company and lots of others have very successful ones, made possible by the latest tech tools. But my company and likely your company isn't Yahoo. What's good for us isn't necessarily good for them. Yahoo is in trouble and the CEO is trying to shake things up and remold the culture. Her move may work; it may not. We'll see.
mstock4941
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mstock4941,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2013 | 8:00:56 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I find this article quite hypocritical. These pages are typically supporting such up-to-date ideas as virtual meetings and electronic collaboration. I find such unquestionable support from you for a Back-To-The-Office policy from a tech-leader extremely distasteful. Next week I will expect you to extol the virtues of steam engines and the fax machine.

I think we all get the idea of hallway meetings and ad hoc idea-gatherings as potentially useful - there are times when face-to-face is very valuable, even critical. But contributing to the culture? It would seem that this policy just set the culture back to the 1970s.

I could see having office time once or twice a week. You get the benefit of the culture and whatever face time you consciously make time for - the rest is heads-down work time. You can find all the studies you want that show the results you need to make your case either way.

Regardless of the reasons, the message this policy sends to her workforce - and to the rest of us is that Yahoo, tech leader and innovator, just went back in time. Perhaps the CEO felt this was necessary as a management decision, but it doesn't send a very promising message in terms of vision, innovation or technology. It actually weakens the Yahoo brand in my eyes. I trust the company less today because of it. But there wasn't a word of caution from you.

What will you condone in your next article? Leaving your work phone on your boss' desk when you go home? Company-sanctioned stations on Sirius XM in your company car?

Waving the flag so high for this policy is the same as pining for the days of print-only editions of newspapers and magazines. Of course, in that case you didn't have to get feedback like this!
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
3/4/2013 | 7:34:27 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Many comments assume reassembly will work, or social networking for telecommuters will work. For what purpose? What culture is being fostered in place of the old Yahoo culture? I don't know exactly because I'm not in the CEO's office or close to responsible employees, but I know I support measures that will revitalize Yahoo as a competitor, and those measures may need to be drastic. The private nursery issue is a morale issue, for sure, in the eyes of affected Yahoo employees, but judgments on it suppose that the CEO needs to be treated or act like every other employee. Much as I dislike the deification of the CEO, he or she is not just another employee; some acknowledgement of that at a distressed company may be in order.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/4/2013 | 4:42:01 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I find this article to be spot on. From the outside it has certainly felt as though one cause?/consequences? of Yahoo's floundering over the past few years has been the lack of a clear identity. You can't just shoot a dart at a dartboard and say OK, this is how we'll react to the new reality. You have to say this is who we are and this is what we do in the new reality.

That can't come from the top down. No matter what course senior management adopts, there has to be a cohesive underlying corporate culture to back up the promises and slogans with enthusiastic and effective execution. I can understand why Yahoo mgmt may feel that for now that means that employess need to be in the office for that to happen..

No disputing that social media, networking applications and the ability to telecommute effectively are wondrous things. Everyone benefits when commute time goes away and when that trip to the pediatrician can be a long lunch instead of a full day off. Still it shouldn't even need to be stated that an IM, a Webex, a Skype conference call, even a corporate social network-none of these are replacements for actual human contact.

My current experience is illustrative. I've happily worked from home 2-3 days a week for several years. I've always gone into the office when it mattered and I've always been allowed to be at home when it mattered. When I'm at home, I work more not less. When I'm in the office I network more effectively. Win-win.

For the past six months I've been forced to work at home full time. A temporary family situation was immediately followed by superstorm Sandy-which severely damaged my office building. I've got all the tools I need at my disposal and on the surface things are going smoothly. But I'm feeling more and more out of the swim, disconnected. It's getting harder and harder to motivate myself to perform optimally. I'm looking forward to our reopening in two weeks.

I can imagine the drift that's been happening in a company that didn't have effective controls with hundreds of employees who never came in at all, some of them apparently logged in for foreshortened hours. I can fully understand why it may be necessary for now to take away this privilege to get things in order.

One hopes that they'll take advantage of this new policy to consciously work to break down silos, to improve networking and communication among employees. One also hopes that they'll evaluate the child care issue sooner than later. Finally one hoeps that as soon as it makes sense they'll evolve to a more flexible strategy that supports telecommuting on a part-time basis at least for those whose job descriptions, personal situations and work ethic warrant it.
NJ Mike
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NJ Mike,
User Rank: Strategist
3/4/2013 | 2:07:46 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
If Yahoo! employees have been using work time to start build-ups, they have violated the trust that is required to work at home. If that is the case, don't blame Mayer for firing the shot across the bow, can she be blamed for not trusting employees who shouldn't be trusted?
edyang
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edyang,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 5:57:45 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
It's very difficult to take away what employees consider "entitlements" as opposed to them not having had it at all in the first place. The problems at Yahoo! seem to go much deeper. Some other article I read said that Mayer was displeased with how late employees arrived and how early they left. That's an issue of culture and less so about telecommuting. I believe that, yes, this may further damage morale in a company where it is dangerously low already. Agreed that Mayer has the right and ability to try and import the "Google culture" to Yahoo! but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea.

Even back in 2003 I was working with director and VP level executives at Microsoft and HP who not only telecommuted, they worked full time virtually from locales far from Redmond and Cupertino. How much easier is it to do now with widespread tools like Skype, Google Docs, Google Hangout, Dropbox, YouSendIt, productivity measurement software MySammy, time card iPhone apps, GotomyPC and on and on?

One good thing to come out of this supposed flap is a massive increase in dialogue about working arrangements in companies. But I fear that this may give others the excuse to eliminate telecommuting for their workers as well. I hope this is not the case.
edyang
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edyang,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 5:47:08 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Nick, putting words in the writer's mouth is not very honorable either. If you're going to quote Rob, at least do it accurately.
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