It was the shot heard 'round Silicon Valley. Marissa Mayer irked the Yahoo employee base and seemingly the entire technology blogging community by ending the company's remote work policy. But not so fast -- Mayer might be smarter than the rest of the valley here.
Some have cited this memo as evidence that Yahoo doesn't trust its people, while others strongly believe that this policy will negatively affect Yahoo's ability to attract and retain the best talent.
A highly accomplished executive speaking to me likened it to the "return to the dark ages of management."
This is a sentiment supported by Kate Lister, president of the Telework Research Center, who said, "What's troubling about this is that a technology company cannot figure out how to collaborate remotely."
However, in defense of Mayer, I think there is another perspective at play here. At Eloqua, we've had to wrestle with this issue, and we've come to realize that being face-to-face matters.
First, regardless of how you feel about remote work policies, the fact is that most technical work, especially software development, is highly collaborative. The essence of what we do as software developers isn't always linear or procedural. It's not about business analysts writing requirements and throwing it over the proverbial wall to software developers who code it up.
Can you write software that way? Sure you can, but that's not how great software products are conceived or built. A thousand unstructured conversations and numerous impromptu meetings go into making great software. Breakthrough collaboration sessions can't always be planned, but by being physically present and together as a team, you increase the likelihood of making it happen.
Second, Mayer's move is not just about getting work done -- it's about changing the corporate culture. As CEO, Mayer understands that establishing the right culture is critical to turning Yahoo around. Changing the corporate culture isn't easy, and it cannot be done through Google hangouts or conference calls. We are physical beings, and there are elements of culture-building that cannot be done remotely.
From my experience, the challenge of not being physically together, at least from time to time, is that it weakens our relational bonds. Misunderstandings are amplified and linger longer when we're remote from each other. When conversations go bad, instead of a quick conversation by the cubicle to resolve disputes, problems can often be internalized and become corrosive to team harmony. It's a pattern I've seen firsthand.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, this memo was obviously an intentional clear shot across the bow of corporate complacency. The not-so-subtle intention by Mayer is for people to self-select -- either to double down at Yahoo or find another place to work.
Is there a middle ground between the tension of the individual's desire for more autonomy, to work wherever he or she wants, versus the need for the company to build a strong team culture?
I believe there is.
We attempt to do this at Eloqua by being both firm and flexible. We're firm about our convictions on how to build a strong team culture but flexible enough to accommodate individual needs or desires to work from home occasionally. We emphasize the need to be physically present and in the office for the common good, but we allow the flexibility for individuals to work from home one day a week. We try to encourage teams to coordinate the work-from-home days so that there are at least three days a week when everyone is in the office together.
Obviously, in a very short time, working from home has gone from a new concept to an expected right in the technology community. But should it be? Especially in a company that is working through some significant hardships? Will Yahoo or any other company be hurt by such a policy? Comment below.