Marissa Mayer Takes Flak for Gathering Her Troops

It has been about a week since a bombshell internal memo from CEO Marissa Mayer was leaked to the world: Yahoo employees will no longer be allowed to telecommute, effective this June.

The goal of the new policy is to foster creativity and better productivity, Mayer said.

If she hoped for a 24-hour news cycle on the subject, she’s been disappointed. Her decision is still being hotly debated in the media and blogosphere — and no doubt in many corporate corridors and human resource offices as well.

Opinions about Mayer’s edict seem to have gelled along the following lines:

  • Mayer made a big mistake. Telecommuting is highly productive for employees and a valued perk. Yahoo will never be able to recruit — or retain — top tech talent with such a policy in place.
  • Mayer is a hypocrite. She is a working mother herself, with a built-in nursery next to her office and a nanny in her employ. She owes it to women to provide a model of a forward-looking company that supports work-life balance.
  • Mayer is being held to a different standard because she’s a woman. A male CEO would not be similarly criticized over the same decision.
  • Mayer made a savvy move. Many telecommuters were said to be abusing the arrangement and will likely quit because of the decision. This way, Mayer doesn’t have to fire them.
  • Mayer made a wise — and difficult — strategic decision. Yahoo is a company in trouble and is suffering from an identity crisis. Pulling the staff together under one roof will aid in instilling a new, strong corporate culture and identity.

Arguing All Sides

The least compelling argument is the one about Mayer’s hypocrisy — as CEO, Mayer is entitled to her perks. A case can be made for the others, though.

Telecommuting is becoming a must-have for a lot of workers if they are to deliver peak performance, Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, founder and CEO of Tribe, told the E-Commerce Times.

“This is not just a women’s issue, as some have painted it. Men are parents too, and many couples expect both partners to play an active role in parenting, sometimes juggling their telecommuting days so each is working from home different days of the week,” she pointed out.

The productivity reason for the telecommuting ban doesn’t make sense, Baskin argued.

“One of the key challenges in almost any office environment today is finding time to think. When one has a major project that requires chunks of time to develop, working at home without the interruptions of the office can be the most efficient way to get serious work done,” she said.

Flexibility to Be Innovative

On the other hand, requiring employees to be under one roof is not an out-of-bounds decision, said Francis Petit, associate dean for executive programs at Fordham University.

“Banning telecommuting can allow an organization to be more innovative,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Grouping employees together where ideas can be exchanged in a hopefully nonthreatening environment can allow an organization to capitalize on its intellectual and experiential capital, which can no doubt lead to innovation.”

It would help if Mayer added other incentives, Petit suggested — such as free lunch for all employees as well as a meeting area with snacks and coffee where employees can not only bond but also exchange ideas.

“Ms. Mayer can be creative with these new amenities so … the employees do not feel punished that they have to be at work and they are also getting something in return,” he said.

“The problem Mayer is facing is that in a company as large as Yahoo, and with many people telecommuting, it is not clear who is productive and who is not,” Bruno Scap, president of Galeas Consulting, told the E-Commerce Times.

“She inherited the current culture. This culture is not the original culture that made Yahoo great. In order to turn the company around quickly, she needs to trigger a culture change,” he said.

The final verdict on whether Mayer made the right decision won’t be in anytime soon. First, the company will have to continue to struggle to its feet and figure out what role it wants to play in the digital economy.

For Mayer, the stakes are a little higher now. If Yahoo succeeds in remaking itself, it will be said that her telecommuting decision had something to do with it. Ditto if Yahoo ultimately founders.

1 Comment

  • It isn’t at all clear that a male doing the same thing would get a pass. In all likelihood a male would get tons more flak and get pounded in the press and elsewhere. The Yahoo board could well have reasoned that Mayer would get a pass because of her feminist credentials.

    Moreover, Yahoo is a business, and CEO’s are rewarded for attaining business metrics. If a CEO is perceived as putting political correctness and/or feminist goals ahead of business goals then she won’t be effective for very long. A dedicated lefty might argue that you can do both at the same time, but in the real world events have a way of bringing priorities into conflict. Choice is a necessity.

    That being said, I don’t have a strong opinion on Ms. Mayer or her decision. I’m rooting for Yahoo based on fond memories and long time use. As the author concluded, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, so we will all have to wait and see.

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