Yahoo! and Working from Home

My office cubby (built in a former closet) where I work when I'm at home. Yes, it's a mess. March 2013.

My office cubby (built in a former closet) where I work when I'm at home. Yes, it's a mess. March 2013.

Update: Since I wrote this post, new experiences have changed my thinking. Read my article series on what happened and how to change my mind about remote work and distributed workforces.

Although the media and other bloggers have covered it ad nauseam, still people ask my opinion as a woman and as a CEO about Yahoo!’s new policy against working from home.

A brief summary: Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! as of late 2013, issued a memo to employees rescinding the company’s work-from-home privileges in late February 2013. An infuriated staffer leaked the edict to the press.

The public exploded with outrage.

My take? Back off, world.

Here are my counterpoints to the predominant protests:

People Will Quit

Yahoo!’s board hired Mayer to turn around a company that has failed for more than a decade.

For her turnaround to work, Mayer needs team players willing to go all-in with her on overhauling the company. Employees who don’t buy into the changes needed—including cutting the work-from-home policy—should go elsewhere. You’re on the bus or you’re not.

And people who leave in response to the change do Mayer a favor: They self-select wheat from chaff, saving her time and money in layoffs and dismissals.

The Change Kills the Yahoo! Culture

Given Yahoo!’s struggles, its current culture doesn’t work.

To change drastically, a team needs to closely collaborate. To collaborate effectively, teammates need a strong company culture. And companies can’t build strong cultures or collaborate effectively when their teams never come together.

And, even as an introvert, I understand the importance of face time. Out of sight, out of mind. If you’re never there, you get passed up for the sweet assignments. And if you never spend time with your teammates, you miss the buzz and collective energy. Companies miss out and staffs miss out.

Tech Companies Make these Privileges Standard

Apple and Google built large campuses—replete with dry cleaners, restaurants, recreational facilities, clinics, day care, and more—to keep top-notch staff on site as much as possible.

Successful tech powerhouses know the importance to a company of culture, collaboration, and interpersonal interaction between people working on teams.

But She’s a Woman!

Some female voices argue that Mayer should consider how her policy change affects working mothers who find it more convenient or cost effective to work from home.

Women who ask for equal consideration based on their capabilities should not criticize women for not acting “female” enough. Mayer is a CEO acting as a CEO. She’s not female or male, but a businessperson in a very difficult position. Never judge someone based on his or her sex.

Mismanaged Communication

Could Mayer have better communicated the change? Absolutely. She shouldn’t have worded the memo as she did, she shouldn’t have sent a solitary blanket communique, and she shouldn’t have only broadly expressed the reasons for the new policy. (Hey, Yahoo!, need a communications firm?)

The Bottom Line

Studies by James C. Davies recounted in Robert B. Cialdini’s excellent book Influence found that most major world revolutions didn’t happen when a group had few privileges; rather, they came about after a group experienced freedoms that governments later took away.

Never having feels easier than losing.

Could that mean Yahoo! might undergo a revolution? Maybe. In fact, seems to me that's Mayer's aim.

Your thoughts?

Update: Since I wrote this post, new experiences have changed my thinking. Read my article series on what happened and how to change my mind about remote work and distributed workforces.