Yahoo’s new (most recent?) CEO, Marissa Mayer, made waves recently when she announced a termination of Yahoo’s work-from-home policy.
The internet promptly went insane, with most of the commentators I read were, for the most part, against Mayer’s decision, saying a telecommuting ban flies in the face of the new workplace ethos, especially for a tech company. (You can argue whether Yahoo is a tech or media company, and – frankly – that’s one of its problems. It doesn’t know what it is.) Some took it a little too personally, noting that Mayer – a new mother – had a nursery built next to her office so she could be near the newborn. Would the moms and dads who relished the work-from-home so they could be near their children be afforded the same type of child arrangements? While a valid point, Mayer is CEO, and with that comes perks and responsibility. Get over it.
Those in favor of Mayer’s move wrote mainly about how Yahoo has become a series of competing silos – the Finance guys vs. the Search dudes vs. the Sports division and so on. This isn’t really healthy, and if making folks rub shoulders with each other every day helps ease the tensions between the silos, well, that’s a good thing.
I think my favorite response to Mayer’s move was by Slate.com’s Farhad Manjoo, who titled his piece, “Marissa Mayer Has Made a Terrible Mistake.”
Guess what side of the debate Manjoo’s on?
Now, I respect (and like!) Manjoo as both a techie and a solid journalist. But his screed – there’s no other polite word for it – comes off as a rant trying to defend his own turf: Manjoo’s a telecommuter. You can almost see the spittle hitting his screen as he pounds out his article, filled with such gems as:
Mayer is going to regret this decision. It’s myopic, unfriendly, and so boneheaded that I worry it’s the product of spending too much time at the office. (She did, after all, build a nursery next to her office to house her new baby).
So, tell me how you really feel about this. (And note the nursery reference?) And this:
This decision suggests that Mayer doesn’t understand one of the most basic ideas about managing workers—that different people work in different ways, and that some kinds of pursuits are inhibited, rather than improved, by time in the office.
I think Mayer is fully aware of different strokes for different folks, but let’s get back to the basic issue: Whatever the underlying cause(s), Yahoo isn’t working well. Telecommuters/siloing could be a part of the problem; let’s throw that against the wall and see what sticks.
Manjoo also asserts that Mayer doesn’t understand how creativity – such as what he does, write – works. Again, I disagree – I don’t for a minute believe that Mayer doesn’t understand that some (not all) creative types are slowed by being office bound. He had earlier tried to bolster his work-from-home argument by pointing to a study about how Chinese call-center workers (warning – PDF) were more productive when they could telecommute. Well, there’s an art to every job, but work in a call center is about as uncreative as any job out there, so how is this helping Manjoo’s argument?
And this goes back to “What is Yahoo?” This question was posed in 2010 to Carol Bartz – then Yahoo’s CEO – by TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington, and Bartz told Arrington to “fuck off.”
More to Manjoo’s “creative” argument: How many of the telecommuters are creative types? Are bean counters, UI/UX experts and database engineers remoting in? Why not bring them in physically instead of virtually?
What really made Manjoo’s article an awesome exercise in silliness was how he simultaneously exercised great journalistic integrity – he contacted Yahoo for a response on the end-of-remote memo – but then ignored what he was told and just continued on with his rant against Mayer’s decision.
Yahoo’s response was perfect, and if people can understand it, Mayer’s move makes sense, even if you don’t agree with it.
“We don’t discuss internal matters. This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home—this is about what is right for Yahoo!, right now.”
“Right for Yahoo!, right now.”
Not “we’re never allowing telecommuting ever again.”
Not “we think telecommuters are slackers.”
Not “we think the rest of the industry is wrong on this issue.”
They are just trying something – anything – to slow the decline of the still-popular web brand before there’s nothing left to do but look it up on the Internet Archive.
Will this new policy – even if temporary – result in losses of some Yahoos! that the company would like to retain? Absolutely.
Will this also trim some of the kruft, the actual slackers (there are some everywhere, even if everyone’s in-house)? Absolutely.
There are pros and cons to all business decisions, and I don’t believe Mayer made this decision lightly. Redesigning the home page? A big deal inside Yahoo!, but not to end users. An end of telecommuting? She knew this edict would light up the intertubes.
I’ve worked remotely (just a day here and there), and I’ve worked with full- and part-time remote workers. As Manjoo correctly points out, for some workers this works, but it’s not for everyone.
I’m personally on Mayer’s side for this issue, for Yahoo! at this time. I don’t see how this can hurt.