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2/28/2013
10:51 AM
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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dissi201
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dissi201,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 4:52:52 AM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
AND GǪ of course there's the consultant's argument (from a wise-old sage) that if all you have is a hammer, everything begins looking like a nail. Nothing like lining up a bunch of folks and saying, "OK GǪ now that you're all here (in the chicken coup) begin being innovative and creative!" Yep GǪ that ALWAYS gets them going! Sort of like being on a Navy ship for 6 months at sea and saying, "No one gets to take "liberty" (that's Navy for going ashore) until morale improves!" Nope GǪ ain't-a-gonna-get-it done and I'll begin taking wagers that she's wearing out her Prada leather looking for another Exec position within a year!
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 3:35:27 AM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
One thing that I'd like to point out here, that I have first hand knowledge of, is that Yahoo (at one point in the past) used to cater heavily to their employees.

For example, the Seattle campus too far for you to commute to? No problem, we'll purchase the rights to a building on a corporate campus closer to your home, build it out and you can move your office there instead of commuting the hour (wish my current commute was that short) to Seattle, you can drive 5 minutes to Bellevue. Then, the economy dropped like a stone and after building the building, it was never occupied. So, Yahoo then owned a building that was fully ready to go but never occupied because the people that would have been staffing that building were either let go or never hired in the first place. How much did keeping that building cost Yahoo? Not privy to that information, but hanging onto it for a few years (unoccupied) couldn't have been cheap. Honestly, I'd love to have that kind of perk - an office in Queens to go to instead of commuting "down to the waterline" in Manhattan. But, how many organizations have the capability to do something like that (building an office closer to their employees homes) and how many would actually do it? Perhaps that's what ran Yahoo into the ground economically.

Let's go to the other end of the spectrum for a minute - let's say that Yahoo decides to collapse all of its remote locations into one huge campus. The rationale is there, since it's better for collaboration and culture. What happens then? Move all of your employees from around the world into one campus? Yeah, I don't see that happening.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
(known to telecommute during hurricanes, blizzards and the occasional flu outbreak)
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
3/2/2013 | 12:01:55 AM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
It is all about quality of product, not just productivity. You can be very productive and just create a lot of junk. Quality comes when committed people bounce ideas off each other and quickly decide which way to go. That is easier and more effectively done with everyone in the same room rather than being distributed and hiding behind IM and chat windows.
stevyrino
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stevyrino,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 11:03:51 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Apparently Mayer doesn't understand the term "time management". Reportedly she has a bad habit of not being on time for meetings, etc. and keeping people hanging around waiting for her arrival. Of course she would want people to be at the office so at least she knows they are wasting their time waiting for her to arrive for a meeting instead of "wasting" their time at home doing useful work. Yahoo people have seen many CEOs come and go. What is one more? Mayer trying to force fit the Google culture onto Yahoo is going to cause problems. Been thru several corporate cultural dna re-programming myself and it is never pleasant.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
3/1/2013 | 9:44:28 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I read the referenced Time article and the implication from the husband of a Yahoo employee indicates the nursery is within the Yahoo complex and "a cubical nearby". Nothing indicates a separate facility, on private property nearby, or line item accounting for space/facilities as indicated by Stratocaster. Your specific reference of adjacent to her company office could certainly imply on company grounds. Stratocaster's questions are legitimate and not answered by the article.
Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 8:56:16 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Hey there Stratocaster,

There's a reference in this Time.com article:

"Her stand is even more egregious considering sheGs apparently built herself a set-up most moms can only dream of: a nursery G paid for out of her own pocket G adjacent to her company office."

http://healthland.time.com/201...

Regards
Tom LaSusa
InformationWeek Community Manager
kmajors660
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kmajors660,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 7:34:06 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I think the idea of shaking up the status quo is more likely. The VPN logs showed that there was not enough work being done from home, I have worked in many different environments and requiring employees to spend at least some time each week in the office has been a good thing. Regardless of pop culture, actually going to work does improve productivity and creativity.
PaulCooley53
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PaulCooley53,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 7:06:56 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
This particular topic has always been an issue since the 1200baud modem was invented. As a young programmer years ago I carried a acoustic coupled keyboard with a roll of print paper home on weekends. After doing IT for 35 years I've learned that this is a 24x7x365 job. One could argue that my typical day starts at 5:00am when I wake up and look at my iPhone for overnight emails... and ends at 10:15pmCT (after the first 1/2 of The Daily Show) when I check my iPhone before going to sleep. For at least 1/2 of the past 35 years I've managed staff and have come to this position. First, we have to treat our IT resources (valuable!) as human beings and adults. No one in my group who wants to work from home on some particular day (or days) will hear "no' from me unless there is a VERY GOOD REASON.... such as a major upgrade or "all hands on deck" item at hand. Second, as I occasionally remind my folks, they actually CHOSE to do this IT stuff as a profession, and their expectations regarding work schedules, 'on call' time, emergency situations and outages should be equally human and adult. Now, for my core position: all the remote tools, concalls, video calls, texts, emails et al DO NOT REPLACE and DO NOT APPROACH the value of 1x1, face to face, and team time. It is fundamental to building an effective team and really knowing your staffGǪ and work satisfaction, and productivity, and learning, and on and on and on.
Thus sayeth The Paul!
Stratocaster
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Stratocaster,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 7:04:42 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
I would like to see the evidence that the private nursery was and will be funded "out of her own personal expenses". Even so, what is that square footage worth to the company? Does she pay rent on the space? And utilities like water, heat, and lights -- and security accommodations for her nanny? (I presume her child is not with her all the time.)
jessicalevenson
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jessicalevenson,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 5:12:19 PM
re: Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point
Agreed, Tom. I think there are ways to change culture without employing what appears to be a hypocritical policy. Not everyone has the funds or personnel at their disposal as Mayer does and it appears that she has either forgotten that or she's just permanently out of touch with the common worker.
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