The Internets and all kinds of pundits are aghast that a technology company – in the Valley, no less – is adopting a “no work from home” policy, under and presumably at the behest of CEO Marissa Mayer.
At best, it seems like a stealthy way to cull those that are remote or those are deemed lower-value (making the indirect association that only those physically in an office are productive…). Given Yahoo’s finances, such culling could be necessary.
At worst, it seemed like this is trying to treat the symptoms in isolation, not the underlying disease (managerial and executive oversight – or lack thereof).
Being a proponent of the many benefits of working from home myself, I must admit I was surprised too, at first…but in thinking about this further, I think I have to agree with the diktat because:
1. Yahoo is not a profitable company riding any kind of wave. It is in trouble and Meyer and team are doing what they can to turn this around.
And if that means that some perks must be cut, so be it. All the second-guessers need to realize that there is probably data within Yahoo that shows remote worker productivity and Mayer and team are taking a thought-through decision to cut their losses. Companies of Yahoo’s size, especially given its history and problems, don’t take these types of decisions randomly.
2. Mayer has to send a signal to employees, investors and managers/execs that it intends to “get tough”. I realize that the value of this, in today’s day and age is dubious, but sometimes, culture is shaped by signals such as this one.
And a few articles online, primarily from ex-yahoo execs seem to point to an overly laid back culture with a large number of remote workers whose primary job is working on non-Yahoo work. So Yahoo clearly had to make some moves to indicate that HQ was going to assert control (not a bad thing if you are a talented employee that mostly works from HQ or an office, right?).
3. Innovation and collaboration, unfortunately, are still driven by teams that are physically together.
If Yahoo was riding multiple waves of innovation (Yahoo Glasses, instead of Google Glasses?) and the company was doing well, then a couple of days of working from home every week or whatever is fine…after the core strategies are in place and the company is doing well. But this is a turnaround situation.
As this HBR blog post says,
Then again, Mayer’s Google background (and impact) suggested that she was predisposed to consider physical (co)presence as essential to digital innovation success as computational/design brilliance. After all, one key reason why Google invested so heavily in providing world-class victuals and dining experiences at the Googleplex for its employees wasn’t health food benevolence, it was to keep people on campus working together. Google explicitly encourages and designs for onsite collaboration. Why would Mayer minimize what she had experienced as a critical success factor?
I also agree with the blog’s other point (among many good ones) that with time, as Yahoo turns around (as I suspect it will), some remote work privileges, especially for its top performers, will be reinstated.