Government // Enterprise Architecture
Commentary
2/27/2013
11:47 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's edict that all Yahoo employees must work in the office doesn't please social business technology fans. But Yahoo insists this is about much more than social.

10 Great Social Features For Microsoft SharePoint 2013
10 Great Social Features For Microsoft SharePoint 2013
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Social business applications are designed to enable workplaces to collaborate no matter where employees are located, including their homes. So, is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's recent edict that all Yahoo employees must work in the office a slap in the face of social business? Or is it a sign that social business -- and social media in general -- has ironically made human beings less social, with Yahoo among the first of many companies that will take course-correcting action?

Earlier this week, a memo from Yahoo HR head Jackie Reses to staff was leaked. Announcing a new rule sent down by Mayer, the memo said in part, "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together." Starting in June, any Yahoo employee who is currently working from home will have to work full time in a Yahoo office. This apparently applies to employees working full time from home and those with flexible work arrangements who currently work part of the time at home and part of the time in an office.

The Yahoo memo touched off a firestorm of response. And that's not surprising, since Mayer's new rule seems to fly in the face of pretty much every major new technology category -- and evolution -- that has emerged in the last several years. Cloud. Mobile. Social. Each of these technologies, and all of them taken together, has enabled employees in the 21st century workplace to work more flexibly and, theoretically, more effectively. These technologies have removed time and geography boundaries.

[ Will social enter your company through the back door or will you face it head on? Read 5 Social Business Predictions For 2013. ]

But the language in the Yahoo memo seems to imply that unless people are in the same physical workspace, they cannot be truly effective. So, one might extrapolate, social business software can be truly effective only if there is also some literal face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow interaction occurring.

Although Yahoo's new stance toward working from home is not directly an indictment of social media, it certainly doesn't stand as a ringing endorsement. It's also among some signs of social media backlash that we have been seeing lately. For example, journalist and author Julia Angwin recently wrote an article explaining why she had decided to unfriend everyone that she was friends with on Facebook. The reasons, she wrote, have a lot to do with Facebook's inability to provide adequate privacy protection, as well as a lack of "contextual integrity," a concept developed by NYU professor Helen Nissenbaum. Angwin explains contextual integrity in her post as a fancy way of saying that when she shares information with a certain group or friend on Facebook, she is often surprised by where the data ends up.

Not knowing where data will end up or how it will be interpreted is an issue with any form of electronic communication, but it's perhaps magnified with social because of the speed and breadth of communication, not to mention limited levels of control over information.

Which brings us back to the benefits of face-to-face interaction. When you can see a person's facial expressions and hear the subtle changes in voice that add context to a message, there's less chance that you will misunderstand that person. And, if there is a misunderstanding, it's far easier and faster to correct it if you and the person are in the same room. With the recent presidential election and, heck, even the Academy Awards, how many times did you see comment streams on Facebook and Twitter devolve into virtual fisticuffs? The people in the middle of those battles very likely would have acted differently -- more politely and thoughtfully -- if they were speaking with other people face-to-face.

I've been on both sides of the workplace equation. In the old days, I went to the office every day. My commute was an hour (on a good day) each way. I started working from home a day or so a week when my older daughter was born. That was 20 years ago, and I communicated by dial-up email and fax machine. It was brutal, and, no, I wasn't more productive. But I was certainly a happier employee, and one who was able to better juggle the responsibilities of a career and a family.

Toward the end of my tenure at my last staff position, I worked from home full time. With IM, PDFs, my smartphone, high-speed wireless and, yes, social media, I could do pretty much anything at home that I could do in the office. I could also do it just as fast, if not faster, and I didn't lose hours each day in my car. On the downside, I sometimes felt disenfranchised, and I know that I missed important information that was relayed as my colleagues who were in the office passed each other in the halls or happened to meet at the soda machine.

In the end, I think that social business technology -- if implemented with specific goals in mind and when managed effectively -- has improved worker productivity. Most companies list as the No. 1 benefit of social business software the ability for geographically dispersed workers to effectively collaborate and communicate.

I think that Mayer will come to rescind, or at least soften, her directive. I can only imagine the frustration and resentment that Yahoo employees must be feeling today, not to mention the distraction. This is quite the opposite of what Mayer was setting out to achieve as "one Yahoo!"

Yahoo late yesterday released a statement in the wake of all the brouhaha around its no-work-from-home policy, with a spokesperson saying, "This isn't a broad industry view on working from home -- this is about what is right for Yahoo, right now." Indeed, Yahoo -- and Mayer -- is in a make-it-or-break-it situation, and desperate times call for desperate measures, which this action reeks of.

What do you think of Yahoo's new no-work-from-home policy? Do you think social business is helping or hurting worker productivity? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

Attend Interop Las Vegas, May 6-10, and attend the most thorough training on Apple Deployment at the NEW Mac & iOS IT Conference. Use Priority Code DIPR02 by March 2 to save up to $500 off the price of Conference Passes. Join us in Las Vegas for access to 125+ workshops and conference classes, 350+ exhibiting companies, and the latest technology. Register for Interop today!

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Robert Narejko
50%
50%
Robert Narejko,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2013 | 2:06:41 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
Instead of shutting down the work form home environment cold turkey, why not try a phased approach? Such as you need to be in the office Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You can work from home Thursday and Friday. Or whatever works for the team you work with.

I hope they have enough real estate to house all the staff. I can't imagine sharing a cubicle with another (or two more) people. That would be really good for employee morale (not).
Deb Donston-Miller
50%
50%
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/7/2013 | 1:35:46 AM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
Thank you so much for the comment, and you make some great points. Maybe Mayer's plan is to start fresh and then slowly build back out a telecommuting program with very explicit goals and expectations in place--two things that have been reportedly missing from Yahoo's current program. I can't see a modern digital company being as effective as it could possibly be without the flexibility that a telecommuting program offers its employees--for all of the reasons you stated and more.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
BusinessOpportunity.com
50%
50%
BusinessOpportunity.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/6/2013 | 7:45:34 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
ItGÇÖs no secret that Yahoo has been struggling for some time to regain its footing as an internet industry leader and that itGÇÖs a bit low on the innovation front right about now, something Mayer was hired to fix. Insiders are saying that much of the companyGÇÖs problem is that it has become rudderless, with a work-at-home policy that is too loose and ranks fairly low on the accountability scale. Here's another good post about this: http://www.businessopportunity...
Number 6
50%
50%
Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
3/4/2013 | 11:14:34 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
If all telecommuting is banned and everyone has to be in the office at the same time, which means no flextime.....

What happens when the next big one shuts down the Southbay Freeway or causes a blackout at HQ and Yahoo can't get any business done? When Sandy blacked out lower Manhattan, Google NYC employees telecommuted and kept working.

Coming next: work to rule. No more telecommuting when home sick. Critical customer problem in the middle of the night? Too bad. It'll have to wait until 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time when everyone arrives at the office at the same time.
Mobile Desk
50%
50%
Mobile Desk,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 7:25:19 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
Doug Mayer- mobiledesk.com / No Relation!

I have had employees work from home and even tried it myself, the bottom line is that I get a whopping 30% increase in productivity and creativity working in the office vs working from home. That includes myself, too distracting working from home. Interruptions after interruption, too many to list.

I applaud her and the strength it took to make an intelligent decision.. you go girl!

I would expect her next move to offer Child Care credits or a facility for her employees child care.
Mike_Acker
50%
50%
Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 1:40:25 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?

hardly: she re-asserted the Social aspect of collaboration .
Deb Donston-Miller
50%
50%
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/1/2013 | 9:42:58 AM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
Thank you for your comment, Richard. It seems to me that if employees are allowed to hide at a company--or are considered "not working" if they are not "at work"--then there is something wrong with they in which those employees are being managed.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
midmachine
50%
50%
midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
2/28/2013 | 8:42:15 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
She/Yahoo needs some serious restructuring. Since she is responsible for the success or failure the people doing the work need to show their face and be accountable to the new power structure to prove their worth. It is only fair to both Marissa AND the employees that they have the opportunity to prove their value in person rather than some Avatar on a screen.
cbabcock
50%
50%
cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
2/28/2013 | 8:23:43 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
If you are trying to build a new corporate culture, or renew a flagging one, as I think Mayer is, then face-to-face collaboration may be essential. We should separate the particular circumstances of Yahoo! at this juncture from the more general questions about the value of social media and whether social networking works. Of course it works. Especially among people who already know each other and share a strong corporate culture. But perhaps Mayer is facing, with grit, that that's not the case inside the present day Yahoo. Charlie Babcock, a senior writer at InformationWeek
Greg MacSweeney
50%
50%
Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/28/2013 | 3:28:47 PM
re: Did Yahoo's Mayer Slap Social In The Face?
Flexibility should be what is most important to Yahoo, or any organization. If Yahoo is really in crisis mode, and work at home employees are unproductive, then maybe they have to come to the office. But will having everyone in the office foster innovation? Maybe, but we'll have to see.

A flexible work environment, where workers come in 1-2 days a week, could probably achieve the same level of increased interaction, and (maybe) foster innovation. But just having people in the office doesn't mean that innovation will magically happen. And, likely, productivity will suffer.

As it has been stated in other posts, remote workers generally use their "commute" time to do work and are usually more productive. Speaking for myself when I go to the office, my commute of 90 minutes each way shortens my work day on each end. When i work at home, the 3 hours I normally spend commuting is usually given back to the company.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - August 27, 2014
Who wins in cloud price wars? Short answer: not IT. Enterprises don't want bare-bones IaaS. Providers must focus on support, not undercutting rivals.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Howard Marks talks about steps to take in choosing the right cloud storage solutions for your IT problems
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.