Certainly, not-so-new Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer is no stranger to popping up in the headlines. She made a name for herself in the tech world as Employee #20 at Google, then grabbed a lot of attention for her Killers-headlined wedding.
The move Mayer, who has been CEO at Yahoo! for less than a year now, made Friday to ban telecommuting at the old (in Internet years) web giant is the latest attention getter for the first-time CEO. And it’s a move that seems likely to ultimately backfire.
The announcement today from Yahoo’s HR staff came via a memo that stated, in part:
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
There are a couple of pieces to this, the first being the wisdom of a blanket edict to an entire company. It’s a questionable practice when you employ 25 people, and probably ill-advised when staffed by a diverse workforce of 11K-plus.
Having worked in a variety of settings in the past 15 years myself, I don’t disagree with Mayer’s assessment that many great decisions come from casual one-offs, and being able to pop to a co-workers cube for an off-the-cuff discussion can help move challenging projects forward.
That said, Mayer’s decision reeks of ‘We (the management team) don’t trust some of you, so all of you will pay the price’. It’s true that a CEO needs to look at a company’s business holistically, but that doesn’t mean treating the staff as individual numbers on a spreadsheet, even if that’s what they are to you.
To date, reactions have been mixed across the net, but lost in the shuffle are some very real tangible impacts on the actual impacted staff at Yahoo!.
The line that I won’t fall for is that this move is some kind of insult to working families. As a general rule, even when working from home, the focus needs to be on the job, not your children. Trying to do both on a regular basis is unfair to both. There are many other reasons this move looks ill-fated on its face.
Practically speaking, the additional days in the office function as a de-facto pay cut for impacted staff. With Silicon Valley’s generally challenging commute times/distances and the price of gas in California, staffers are most certainly not making out on this deal. Worse for Mayer & Co is that this practical pay-cut doesn’t save Yahoo! a dime.
The fact that studies show telecommuters generally work more hours than office-dwellers also seems lost on the CEO, though one assumes that Mayer is banking on getting greater quality from collaboration and physical presence in this case.
What seems to have really evaded Mayer, stunningly, is the fact that the rest of Silicon Valley isn’t likely to follow on the coattails of Yahoo! on this one. Fair or not, people measure themselves against what their peers in the industry are receiving in terms of compensation and benefits, and telecommuting arrangements are seen as a benefit in 2013. To essentially drag a staff backwards is undoubtedly sure to cost Yahoo some of its remaining top talent.
A more practical move would have been to continue to encourage work-life balance while identifying key projects and initiatives, and working with the staff on those projects to increase their presence in the office, or coordinate it at a minimum. Yahoo’s bean counters certainly don’t need to be in the building every day for Yahoo’s development team to produce the next great application.
Optional musical accompaniment to this post here.
Pic via Jolie O’Dell