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Katherine Lewis

Marissa Mayer Cancels Telework for Yahoo! — Legions Ask Why

By February 26, 2013

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Yahoo! Chief Executive Marissa Mayer made headlines over the weekend, again, by canceling telework company-wide. This just months after she barely broke a sweat delivering her first baby (a healthy boy) before returning to work from what I wouldn't call a maternity leave -- more an extended long weekend.

Marissa Mayer telework

Photo credit: Getty Images

According to the breezy internal memo leaked to All Things D, the sweeping new policy aims to make Yahoo! "the absolute best place to work" by emphasizing communication and collaboration and banning work-from-home arrangements. "Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," the memo says.

My first thought when hearing the news is that we had an answer to my previous post on whether Marissa Mayer's elevation to CEO while pregnant sets back women's advancement or moves it forward -- at least for women (and men) at Yahoo! Then I wondered whether she's overcompensating for being the highest-ranking new mom in corporate America by prohibiting a well-accepted work arrangement that most new parents use at least intermittently. Or perhaps, as PunditMom Joanne Bamberger posits, even more out of touch than Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.

Sure, there are times when the downsides of telecommuting outweigh the positives, such as divisions of the company that are truly collaborative 100 percent of the time and rely upon in-person team work exclusively. But that is a rare situation in this age of Skype meetings and shareware. It's hard to think of a job function that doesn't benefit from some protected alone time to focus on the task at hand rather than the colleague in the next cubicle.

And the documented benefits of incorporating work-from-home into an organization are so compelling -- higher productivity, greater worker loyalty, less turnover, cost savings for employees and their employers -- that even the casual observer is likely to conclude that Mayer must be ignorant, misguided or have a hidden motive. Especially, as the Atlantic's Derek Thompson points out, given that Yahoo! has large offices in New York and San Francisco, some of the worst cities for long, soul-grinding commutes. It's not just parents who benefit from flexible work -- pet owners, marathon runners and others with active personal lives may want to work remotely.

Some coverage has suggested that Mayer's move against telework aims to trim employee ranks by getting rid of less-productive workers who are skating under the radar. But generally the first employees to jump ship in a shakeup are those who are able to find better offers because they're more talented and employable. If this is truly a strategy to reduce staffing without a layoff, it's more likely to result in what the human resources nerds call "presenteeism," with resentful workers physically at their desks but not really contributing to the bottom line. In a knowledge business like Yahoo!, you can't guarantee that people are working just because you can physically see them.

I'm going to avoid the obvious class-warfare sniping over Mayer being clueless about rank-and-file workers' needs because she can afford to build a nursery for her newborn at work. I'm pretty sure she's being driven to work by a chauffer, as well, rather than gripping the wheel in rush-hour traffic with the rest of us. This decision is wrong headed without even bringing up a tone deaf CEO -- and likely spells trouble for the future of Yahoo! regardless.


February 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm
(1) Sue says:

You might be being too hard on Mayer. I can tell you from personal experience that there are certain times when having all hands on deck is critical to the success of the operation. When my company went through a restructuring, I, too, asked people to stop working from home and to be in the office each day. I knew we needed to re-establish working bonds amd that it would be difficult to do so if we did not see one another. Additionally, the restructuring came with many changes to established policies and procedures – all of which were much easier to implement with everyone in the office. We also were making changes to how we communicated with our customers and marketed our product – and it was important for everyone to be on the same page. While there were a few bad attitudes and bumpy weeks initially, everyone (including those who used to work from home) agrees that it was the right thing to do. The organization moved forward as one – and the face-to-face working relationships that were established or improved upon are still yielding positive results. Now that we have completed the restructuring, we are in the process of re-establishing some work-from-home parameters.

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