Good premise. Poor execution.


March 4, 2013 by smallarmyjeff

Last week, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer caused quite a stir with her “work at home ban.” The world was quick to chime in about the unfair and unsympathetic nature of the decision.

As the CEO of an organization whose livelihood depends on creativity and innovation, I agree with Ms. Mayer’s premise that the best way to promote innovation and teamwork is through in-person interaction. Technology may make communication and connectivity much easier, but it can never replace the in-person dynamic that causes true creativity and innovation.

However, that in-person dynamic is dependent upon willing participants. And, unfortunately, the ban could result in a company full of unwilling and unhappy “participants.” Here are a few things I believe she could have done differently:

1.  Acknowledge that not all tasks are created equal.
Many tasks are fine – and perhaps, better – to do at home, away from interruption. Allow for such tasks to be be done so.

2.  Offer alternative options for in-person collaboration. 
“In-person” doesn’t need to mean “at the office.” For some, life situations may make it difficult to go to the office every day. But, what if the office went to them? Consider letting teams meet at locations that are convenient to everyone (homes, coffee shops, hotels, etc.).

3.  Reward innovation.  
If the goal is greater innovation, then motivate people to innovate (ie., bonuses, vacation days or just simple acknowledgement). Good people will find ways to work together and innovate, especially if they are appropriately recognized for their success.

What else do you think Yahoo! could do to address the challenge?


5 thoughts on “Good premise. Poor execution.

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I think you have some great ideas here and Marissa’s thinking feels surprisingly black and white. I do see her point: it’s hard to beat face-to-face. *But* if that “face” is stressed out about being at the office, they are not *really* present anyway are they.

    We run a small copywriting agency with two employees — one lives in Boston and comes into the office a few days a week, and the other lives on the West Coast so we only talk to him by phone/email. I love having our writer in the office, but sometimes it just makes more sense for her to work at home.

    One way companies can handle this is to have a few mandatory office days — and for those who work off site — mandatory office hours. e.g. All employees have to be available from 10-2. If for nothing else, this makes it much easier to schedule meetings.

    In my opinion, as long as the quality of work is high and the person is available for meetings, as needed, giving them the freedom to decide where and when to work fosters a stronger sense of loyalty — and stronger work, too.

    Anyway — great post!

  2. Janak Joshi says:

    Mandatory office days. To expect in 2013 to be at the office 5 days a week 10 hrs a day sounds ludicrous. Especially in major cities where takes over an hour to get to work. She just added additional cost for remote employees in many ways than necessary. There will be a brain drain but maybe that’s what she is aiming for.

  3. Tricia says:

    I think this is a challenge in today’s workforce. Women worked very hard in the 80’s/90’s to become equal partners and to be told ‘you can have it all!’ – successful work, successful home life. However, this leaves us GenX and GenY’ers confused and frustrated with what does having it all actually mean? We all do not have the luxury of an at work nursery as Ms. Mayer does or find it feasible to foot a 2k per month bill on childcare – but we do! (especially in a single parent household) – can women ‘have it all’ yes.. but it takes a village and it certainly takes a village to create a workplace that supports a realistic lifestyle for individuals while also paying attention to the bottom line. If you are a responsible employee, you realize that ‘working from home’ does not mean taking your dog to the vet or getting pedicures while on a conference call. I suggest that on a case by case basis – employees should be allowed work from home days per year/hours per month (such as personal days etc..) where you can create a work-life balance – this is where our mothers, grandmothers left off in the Womens Equal Rights movement and I think it is up to our generation to move this forward.

  4. Marissa Mayer wants Yahoo to be a technology company that values face-to-face interaction yet she’s overlooking the needs of come of her people — those employees who rely on flex schedules and alternative work arrangements to maintain their productivity (and sanity). If she takes something away, she should make staying onsite more appealing with benefits like on site child care (for more than just her), part time options, wellness days, productivity rewards, even free breakfast. A little goes a long way. (So do bagels.) And since Yahoo is becoming a company that’s drastically different than what many signed up for when they were hired, helping those who logistically can’t make it work find new jobs would be great too.

  5. Kathy Snay @kathysnay says:

    Great post. It outlines an excellent and balanced view of the latest work-at-home fire storm. Yahoo’s absolute one size fits all just isn’t the way to go.

    For years I enjoyed a mix of work-at-home, office and/or travel. Our responsibility is to deliver the best value to our customers and employer. Oh yes, and to live our best life along the way.

    It’s situational; dependent upon the employee, skill mix and customer requirements. Your progressive perspective is always right on.

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