Yahoo in a Gray Flannel Suit?

A  maelstrom of controversy is swirling around Marissa Mayer’s decision to force Yahoo telecommuters back to the office.  On the one hand, I admire her courage in doing what she believes is necessary to get Yahoo back on track.  On the other hand, this move flies in the face of the current wisdom that offering flexible work  options creates more engaged employees = better business results.  Much of the media coverage  has indicated, however, that doubts remain about whether this is always true. While productivity is generally believed to increase among at home workers, creativity can take a hit.

Of course, many jobs still have to be done in the workplace (nurses, cops, telephone linemen, the list goes on), but the increasingly common wisdom has been that we laptop-smartphone-google hang out equipped types can work from anywhere.  Mayer’s point is that as the frequency of unplanned and serendipitous interactions declines, so does creativity.  Take our poll and let us know what you think.  Read on below to hear what some of our board members think about this decision.  Although the specifics of their responses vary somewhat, all agree that Mayer’s goal is no doubt to help her company survive.  Only time will tell if this approach will yield the results she seeks.

[poll id=”24″]

David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

“Sometimes you need the face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow experience of everyone being in the same physical space. With Yahoo! facing so many challenges, now may be one of those times.”

John Hollon, Vice President for Editorial, ERE Media

“It’s easy to draw the conclusion that Yahoo! putting an end to flexible work arrangements is a turning back of the clock and some sort of statement about the viability of flex work. But I don’t think that’s the case. From all I have heard — including from some former Yahoo! managers who observed this first hand — it’s more about how in all of the upper management turmoil there over the last few years, the monitoring of flex time arrangements had gotten sloppy and hard to handle. Add to that new CEO Marissa Mayer’s experience at Google, where they have more of an all-hands-on-deck work philosophy without a lot of flex work, and you can see that this is more of an issue with flex work at Yahoo! given what Mayer is trying to do to revive the company than anything else. Flex work is here to stay and it is the smart thing to do for most organizations — just not for Yahoo! at this particular point in time.”

Sharlyn Lauby, SPHR, CPLP, The HR Bartender and President of ITM Group Inc.

“From my vantage point, this isn’t about Yahoo! taking away an employee benefit. It’s about them admitting (albeit very indirectly)that they didn’t manage it well. This is just how they are choosing to fix the problem. But it is also a lesson in new workplace norms being managed by old skool tactics. Businesses that want to take advantage of the benefits of telework or virtual work need to put measures in place prior to implementation – specifically, training managers to effectively manage a workforce they cannot see every day.”

Sue Meisinger, Former CEO of SHRM, columnist, speaker and consultant on executive management issues

“I think you have to look at the Yahoo! decision in the context of what they’re trying to get done – which is survive.   Bringing everyone back in house, and getting a better handle on productivity levels to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction is critical.  I doubt whether this is a long term strategy – workplace flexibility will probably evolve in a new way at the company as things stabilize.  Unfortunately, Yahoo!’s communication strategy was lacking:  there certainly are mixed messages when the company says employees can no longer work at home, but the CEO can build a nursery in her office.”

Media Coverage:


Huffington Post

LA Times:,0,5913345.story

Boston Globe:

New York Times:

7 thoughts on “Yahoo in a Gray Flannel Suit?

  1. I think a mix may be best. There’s something to the informal face time and the creative process. A book I’ve been reading (“Imagine”) cites Pixar as an example. Their campus was designed to maximize informal employee interaction. They believe interaction juices creativity. Plus they have free beer.

    Written from home, but I’ll be in the office tomorrow!

  2. Agree with Leo that a mixed approach is a better way to go

    Interesting that none of the commentators focused on the fact that there is no water cooler approach when the cooler is in india or china where much of yahoo’s brain power resides

    I also agree with comment that this is a yahoo thing only and that flex time is here to stay on an overall basis

  3. I have to agree with Leo as well. My current employer offers very flexible work-from-home arrangements, which I find exceptionally beneficial when I need to be “heads down” on a project involving lots of thought (and also when I encounter family issues that occasionally find me needing to meet a school bus, attend an appointment, etc.)

    I also find it rewarding and rejuvenating to go to our office- luckily in my case a relatively easy commute. It’s great to speak directly with peers, get immediate feedback on my work, and (as Marissa indicated) learn new ideas from others.

    A mixed approach works well for me individually, but would also work well across the firm. I’m sure there are some employees who can & do work most effectively alongside others, and they should be side-by-side in an office. Others should be able to work remotely. And others still should enjoy the same mix I do.

    But regardless, those decisions should be made at a mid-management level- not via a corporate-wide top-down edict like the one at Yahoo.

  4. She did what she felt was best for the company. Sure, it’s not fair to telecommuters who do get their work done and need to work from home, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with requesting that those who can go into the office do so.

    I think ideally, they should find a way to determine which telecommuters aren’t productive enough, and tell them they either need to step it up or come into the office. However, since Yahoo isn’t doing well, my guess is they didn’t have the time or resources for such a tailored approach. Maybe in time they’ll be able to offer telecommuting options and manage the whole thing better, but the company seems to be in a state of emergency. Struggling companies often take their struggles out on the workers in the form of decreased benefits and privileges.

    For me, telecommuting isn’t necessarily the “way of the future,” nor do I think that everyone who can work from home necessarily should. I don’t think requiring that people come into work (unless they’re sick or otherwise stuck at home under special circumstances) is “old school.” Are we really turning into a society that does everything from their living rooms just because they can and not because they need to? That scares me.

  5. Been saying it plenty over the past week including at last week’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress forum…I strongly disagree with this business decision. There are a plethora of ways to evaluate workplace flexibility options plus research indicates that flexibility is a key to retention. And while it is not simply a working parent issue, the majority of employees who will be impacted by it are…working parents. Mayer’s rationale that employees need to be on-site for communication and collaboration to occur is simply ludicrous. My thoughts on it are here —

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