Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense

Andre Yee, Senior Vice President, Eloqua | 2/27/2013 | 77 comments

Andre Yee
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.

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Susan Nunziata   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/5/2013 9:27:02 PM
Re: Office Time Wasters
@David: IMHO, yes. It's better than what Yahoo is doing. Their tactic is essentially a way of culling the herd without actually laying anyone off. People will self-select out of that environment if they're not happy with the arrangement. The risk in Mayer's move is that the company will likely lose its best and brightest people because of this management decision. I'm told that small software development companies in the Bay Area -- who typically have trouble hiring top talent because they're competing with the "big boys" --  are now ejoicing because they expect a surge of skiled and talented job candidates to be hitting the market thanks to Mayer. 
Susan Nunziata   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/5/2013 8:58:45 PM
Re: Old habits die hard
@JPoe: So do you see Yahoo's situation and Mayer's as unique to solve one company's problem? Or will Mayer's decision open the door for other businesses to eliminate work-from-home options?
batye   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/3/2013 7:45:05 PM
Re: For some that might be true but
it more related on the human nature as some people could not work with out supervision... some work best from home... it more to each his own... what is your comfort-ability level....
batye   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/3/2013 7:21:25 PM
Re: Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense
interesting with Yahoo it like thing keep repeating itself over and over - work from home tele-commute, now work in the cloud... but it all seems the same just using it new name... for the process...
Henrisha   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/3/2013 12:51:43 PM
Re: Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense
Andre, you have a point. It seems like Yahoo is relevant again, with all the attention their no-work-from-home policy is getting from various outlets.
MDMConsult   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/1/2013 8:29:55 PM
Re: Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense
Yes. Marissa Mayer and Yahoo is surely not the only company that has adhered to these policies, enterprises recognize human capital loss and instill such measure like no work from home or no chat systems, online messaging within the workplace. Companies push standards and unfortunately we sacrifice. In this case the overall outcome should be a better sign of Yahoo's strategic decision as win or loss.

Andre Yee   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/1/2013 9:21:11 AM
Re: Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense
Just posted this on my Twitter feed but the biggest takeaway from Marissa Mayer's remote work ban controversy is that Yahoo is beginning to be relevant again.  At least in the conversation.

Who would have cared what Yahoo did or didn't do a couple of years ago?  For a big tech company, being irrelevant is worse than being hated.   Just ask Microsoft
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SaneIT   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   3/1/2013 8:12:48 AM
Re: Office Time Wasters
We have many of those systems in place, nearly all of our office staff has the ability to do video conferences but IM is something that never gained popularity here, I guess too many people wanted to have threads of email to forward when it becomes CYA time.  When I'm traveling for business I use video calls quite a bit since we can do screen sharing from that application and helps us knock out problems just as quickly as if I were in my office.
vnewman   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   2/28/2013 11:41:12 PM
Re: Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense
Either way, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the end - could be a brilliant move to save the company or an epic fail.  Desperate times call for desperate measures as they say and certainly to make a blanket policy like this - without seemingly taking into consideration individual position or circumstances - is a last ditch effort.
JPoe   Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense   2/28/2013 9:40:38 PM
Re: Marissa Mayer's No-Work-From-Home Policy Makes Sense

Yeah, that's kind of the vibe that I'm getting. Complacency. And sometimes, growing a company isn't about selling sexy gadgets, but about taking care of fundamentals.
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