Yahoo Flap Misses The Bigger Point - InformationWeek

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Government // Mobile & Wireless
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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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 is one. Rescuetime is another.
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.
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