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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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NickSmith109
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NickSmith109,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 6:10:30 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Wow, so the editor-in-chief of a business technology magazine doesn't think that collaboration systems are worth a bucket of warm spit. One has to wonder, do you believe in any of the technologies your publications write about?

Culture can be good or bad, and just because people are in an office doesn't mean that culture will improve. It can also facilitate group think and waste resources as people spend more time chatting in their open environment rather than actually hunkering down and doing work. Take a look at who offers up original, out of the box ideas in your organization - I'll bet a disproportionate fraction of good original ideas come from those who can actually spend some uninterrupted time thinking about issues and solutions. That's painfully hard to do in an open office environment. If you need meetings, have them. If you can't make a teleconference productive, it's not the fault of the medium or the culture, it's the fault of the leader, because others manage it just fine.

If you insist people work from an office, you are closing yourself off to a wealth of talent and diversity. The vast majority of people don't live anywhere near your or Yahoo's offices. Are you really willing to write them off? If original thinking is what you really value, then you should be open to the diversity that home workers can bring. Would you seriously not hire an ideal candidate just because they don't happen to live where you have offices?

And it terms of productivity, I'll bet if you look at your home workers and compare their output with their in-office colleagues you'll find that their output is as good or better. Offices, particularly the new fad toward open offices are distracting. There's always something to look at or talk about besides your work.

Those who distrust the value of home workers tend toward micromanagement. If the boss can't see you, how does he know you're really working at home? Measuring output and using data to judge both in-office and out-of-office workers rarely occurs to these people. How do you judge your direct reports, Rob?

Perhaps you long for the days of typewriters and rotary phones, but most of us have moved on and are better for it.
ekwang917
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ekwang917,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 6:21:52 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I think Mayer simply bring Google culture over to Yahoo. Googlers don't telecommute. They did a lot of internal study showing telecommute has more negatives than positives. But there are many studies out there indicating telecommuters are actually more productive. So which is true?

I think the key issue is measurement. Can managers measure a telecommuter's output without seeing face to face everyday? It is a shame tech giant like Google and Yahoo can't figure this out to allow their employees telecommuting. There are plenty of productivity measurement solutions out there on the market to address this issue. MySammy http://www.mysammy.com is one. Rescuetime is another.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
2/28/2013 | 6:33:07 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Nick, did you forget to take your meds this morning? Please reread the column--or have someone read it to you. Never did I say that collaboration systems aren't useful; I certainly didn't say or suggest they're "worth a bucket of warm spit." I said that Yahoo's situation is unique, and if the CEO of Yahoo wants to pull people into the office as part of the company's turnaround efforts, she shouldn't be second guessed for giving that a try. And did you know that people who work in offices also use collaboration systems? I certainly do. All the time.
NickSmith109
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NickSmith109,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 6:51:29 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Ah, an ad hominem attack,nice. But me thinks m' editor protests too much. I'm sure you are a great user of collaboration systems, just as you say. Any of the other arguments you'd like refute? Didn't think so.

Yahoo is finding ways to trim its workforce without the expense of a layoff. It's pathetic and you should have seen through it. The good of remote workers at least balances the bad.So yes, the CEO should be second guessed. Her motives are less than honorable. And when top management of large companies do stupid and in this case evil things, it's just fine that they get questioned. They aren't Popes, they're CEOs.

If you think insisting that folks show up in an office will help Yahoo's plight, you're wrong. It's troubles shouldn't be laid at the feet of disconnected employees. Leadership screwed it up plain and simple. Changing policies on workers won't fix that, it'll just demoralize them more than they already are.
thinkingaloud
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thinkingaloud,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 6:58:22 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Hi Rob G«Ű I read with great interest your commentary on this issue. My reaction was exactly the same as yours. Ms. Mayer is sending a message about culture. It is about getting folks together to work as a company. Years ago I had an employee who wanted to take every Friday off in the summer because she had G«£a child and a boyfriend who goes to Cape Cod for the entire summerG«•, and this would permit her to meet him on weekends. She seemed insulted when I said no because it prevented anyone else from taking a long weekend and railed at me because, G«£you simply donG«÷t care because you do not have a child,G«• as if that justified her needs impacting everyone else in the department.

The work at home and casual attitude toward work has also filtered into dress codes. Casual Friday is one thing G«Ű down and out Friday something entirely different. I had a long time mentor who told me, G«£when you dress for school or work as if you are going to the beach, you are demonstrating a lack of respect for your professors, your employer and your peers.G«•

Aside from the camaraderie and brainstorming that takes place when folks work together, the absence or detachment of an employee can affect many others in the chain. I doubt that anyone would deny an employee additional time to attend to a sick child or spouse, but when you are paid for a job, you need to do that job. Ms. Mayer is not, as you pointed out, G«£being less than hospitable to working parents.G«• She is managing the company. How you manage the rest of your life is up to you.

DonG«÷t agree, however, with the cubicle or open office concept though
dreiner941
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dreiner941,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 7:02:52 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Rob, I agree with you and I very much agree with Marissa MayerG«÷s decision. I have seen the creative and collaborative drain at companies where telecommuting is rampant. People not only lose track of what the company is doing but not being able to respond quickly to market changes is a killer in today's environment. I have worked with large companies who can change on dime and the one thing they all have in common is that they are able to communicate changes to their staff quickly and they then move in unison understanding the company's vision. Those that don't have this structure, move with less deliberation and rely on process and proceedures to get things done.

At a company that is all about the user experience, collaboration and anticipating the rapid changes in the market and being able to move nimbly is vitally important. Marissa knows what matters from her experiences at Google and is trying to resurrect a culture that needs attention at Yahoo. I think she is going to be very successful.
lgarey@techweb.com
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lgarey@techweb.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 7:09:01 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I'd love to know how many Yahoo employees, believing telecommuting would not be rolled back, moved to more affordable areas and are now stuck with a hard decision. Of course, we'll never know. This seems like a back door way of thinning the ranks without a big layoff that would reflect poorly on the company. It also seems like an opportunity for Google and others to poach any top talent still at Yahoo.
Lorna Garey, IW Reports
lgarey@techweb.com
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lgarey@techweb.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 7:17:05 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
It sounds like your business is (or was) a small one with minimum staffing requirements, if having one person out every Friday would result in no else being able to take a long weekend. It also sounds like that employee didn't do a very good job making her case. Years ago at my previous employer I negotiated leaving early several days a week to meet a school bus, but I structured it in a way that benefited my boss by working extended hours on our busiest day. Not all businesses are the same, and Mayer succeeded in one thing: We're all talking about Yahoo. Lorna Garey, IW Reports
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2013 | 7:56:22 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Your argument is detrimental to itself. If Google and others recruited them, they would still have to move to the "more expensive" areas. Just because you CAN work from home doesn't mean you should. Telecommuters, by definition, are selfish. They aren't doing it to make the company better - they want to work from home so they don't have additional travel expense, they don't have to dress professionally, etc etc. No one should be surprised that a bunch of selfish workers are crying when they don't get their way. Mayer is doing what she thinks is best for the company, not for herself. Bravo, Marissa!
Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 8:12:40 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
(I posted this in an article posted by Laurie McLaughlin as well, but seems appropriate to repost)

The problem is that Mayer is looking alot less like a strong female fighting to juggle both work and personal life and more like an out-of-touch CEO.

The reason? Two words: Private Nursery.

Mayer had one built (admittedly out of her own personal expenses) right next to her office. In doing this, she's basically told both working moms (and dads) at Yahoo that while everyone now has to report to work in a physical building, dropping their kids off at a babysitter's or daycare center, she still gets to enjoy the benefits of having her newborn a few feet away from her.

As I understand it, Yahoo does offer in some of their locations on-site daycare. Mayer could have taken advantage of a real opportunity here, showing up to work and dropping off her baby at the daycare center. Instead all she's done is remind folks that she's the boss, and being the boss has perks.

If any regular Yahoo employee walked in and announced that they were going to rent the empty cube next to them and turn it into their own private romper room for their child, they'd be out the door faster than a Yahoo Yodel.

Yes, the 'no more working from home' is a controversial decision and bound to have detractors. And only time will tell whether it proves to be the right more or not (more to come obviously in say, six months?) But the fact that she's made this decree while at the same time allotting herself such a special entitlement -- it's not surprising that she's gone from being lauded by many to criticized in a year's time.

Doesn't seem to me like the makings of a positive culture.

Tom LaSusa
InformationWeek Community Manager
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