Marissa Mayer

Yahoo’s recent work from home uproar caused the pundit class to claim that one company’s internal decision was a mandate that that would kill off workplace flexibility and set women back decades across the country. The problem: it wasn’t.

Yahoo made a decision for Yahoo, and other companies may follow suit.  That’s not a bad thing.

Yahoo is a company in flux, one that is trying to save jobs and needs to make changes that will ensure it remains a going concern. Every benefit provided to employees has costs to the employer. At this point, the costs of working from home are too great a risk to the culture Yahoo needs to rebuild.

Years ago, Best Buy was emphasizing a “work from anywhere” concept and now they are fighting for their lives.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence. In my own industry – management consulting – I’ve seen the virtual workplace touted as recruitment benefit turn into a lack of accountability, poor client service and increased turnover.

The benefits of flexible work policies are well-documented.  In less than a decade, the number of people who consider home their primary workplace has doubled, from roughly 1.5 million to 3.1 million. Studies claim work-from-home employees are more productive than those spending their days in the office. They say they help employees balance work with family obligations. And, in an increasingly virtual, interconnected world, remote working is the way of the future.

And, yes, there are people who perform well away from office. An employee I know at a biotech firm saved her company $150 million in taxes while working from home three days a week. She could work from Mars for all her boss cared. But, to be perfectly honest, most people just aren’t as self-motivated.

For every “work from home” policy, there needs to be a corresponding “work from office” plan. In an increasingly connected world, I believe employees are more disconnected than ever.

Offices are central hubs of collaboration, especially as companies mature from start-up-idea-in-the-garage to profitable business. Offices foster cultures that help attract, develop and retain talent; a face-to-face engagement opportunity that is lost when interaction is limited to email and instant messenger.

Look at companies on the various Best Places to Work lists.  Yes, they have work from home policies. They also have employees who choose to come to the office. Employees who don’t lose connection to the company and the community it creates. They’re not part of decisions that affect their jobs, aren’t contributing to growth plans and are left out of water cooler conversations.

I disagree that work from home policies increase work life balance.

In fact, I think it is just the opposite. In the words of Evernote CEO Phil Libin: “To an employee, I would say that [if they’re working at home] understand you’re signing up to work harder.”  There is a correlation between the increased popularity of working from home and the sense of employees that their days are getting longer. It’s valid to say that people working at home may have a harder time turning off work. It is just as valid to say, when they come to the office, they have a hard time turning off home.

This mixture can create dissatisfaction and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Separating home from office physically separates the two mentally as well.  Yes, you can go home and relax after a hard days work.

Yahoo’s policy change may be making waves now, but maybe they’re onto something. In my company, I don’t think anyone should work from home permanently.

It’s a disservice to them as they lose the interaction and relationships they need to succeed, and it’s a disservice to the company as it creates a fractured work culture.

Yes, there are times when employees need to work remotely. But you’d better believe there are more times they’d benefit from being in the office. Don’t be surprised if more companies follow Marissa Mayer’s lead.

Chris Stephenson is co-founder and partner at strategy consulting firm ARRYVE. Follow on Twitter @arryve

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  • guest

    Agree with most of this. Product development works much better in a common workspace. Don’t agree that anyone in this industry “turns off” work anymore, whether telecommuting or not, most people I know working in geekdom are constantly “at work”.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Thanks for the post. Your comment is very valid and we never fully turn off anymore. I do use the commute I have to transition from work mode to home mode and that shift does allow me to prioritize the right things at the right time.

  • MarissaPlease

    Easy to tell people how great it is to be in the office when you can build out a nursery next to your office, Marissa. Will you be providing that same benefit to all your fellow Yahoo employees?

    • Guest

      No. What kind of rank-and-file employee thinks it’s appropriate to bring a baby to work, anyway? A dog, maybe. A baby, no.

      • Dylan Wilbanks

        On-site daycare is something Google and a number of other Valley companies offer. Even non-tech companies do this (or make it possible for third parties to set up daycares in office buildings.)

        • Jefferson

          The Chronicle article states that the nursery is just for Marissa. It is not on-site daycare for all employees to use.

          • been there

            Typical woman, one rule for her and another for the pee-ons. She should look at her own metrics. Yahoo is last in about everything. The woman made it on looks not her business sense. Everything as a metric is one thing but the best work ethic relies more on what actually gets done. She has not looked into every employee and decided to bring in only the unproductive ones. She looked out in the parking lot and saw that some people did not have to do what she did so she is ruining their home life and making them waste 4 hours a day commuting JUST BECAUSE SHE HAS TO. I have too many responsibilities outside work to waste traveling to work everyday. No one else knows how to code anyway. I know a company that did this and the employees clock out at 5 on the dot and do not log on from home anymore. The backlash was devastating to the company. One pissed off worker can be fired. But the company NEEDS the rest of the workers to not be pissed off. Many women just quit to stay home with their children. No personal company daycare for them. Plus who wants to leave their kids with a moron twenty something. Funny how this is happening at many companies at one time, like it was a conspiracy to get people to quit. When I contract we have electronic leashes and they know what we do all day. It is funny they can see my computer 24/7 and they still have to ask me what I’m doing. They cant see past the code. My last manager was a woman and could run rings around this pretender.

          • Julie A. Smith

            I am not defending the work from office memo and policy. I am defending women everywhere. This poster seems to miss the fact that women are in the workforce adding significant value to companies at all levels. Many women choose not to stay at home with children (and trust those children to qualified care-givers) and many more women need to work to provide for themselves and their families. Studies show that companies with women in leadership roles (as opposed to those with only men) are more successful. Diversity, it turns out is good. Exit the cave. Join the rest of us in 2013.

            (by the way, MM inherited the issues at Yahoo, and was brought in to fix them. She is talented and her achievements are based on abilities, not her looks).

          • Stinky

            Can you say “troll”? Knew ye could.

          • anaxamaxan

            You had me up until “Typical woman.”

          • Pro-work-from-home

            I agree with you. And wish to add a couple of thoughts about hypocrite Mayer. Using technically sounding buzzwords and slanted research to promote an old and anti-green (factory style, industrial-era style, workers are kids in a classroom style) ethic is more demoralizing than anything. Work life balance is important although perhaps the Bottom Line Revenue is not readily seen, Morale and keeping an employee happy should be key to productivity, and more flexibility. Let’s look at how SuperCEO 0.0 Mayer can live this so-called New Policy and perhaps selfish incentives behind it. Justifying real estate profit? Perhaps hidden kickbacks on wasted gas taxes? Ties to Oil companies, who stand to profit from wasted gas in traffic? I’m certain there are many hidden personal benefits to Mayer and Mayer alone. Those copy-cat companies that follow-suit on everything, simply lack innovation and well would probably equally Suck to work for as they would simply ‘rubber stamp’ each and ever change, without reviewing and making their own decisions as managers should. Mayer…. Hmmmmm, anyone really know anything great she’s actually done for google? other than at one time date one of the founders? The female CEO “Shaft! …she’s a “bad mother …… …shut yo mouth”. The main point I want to make about CEOs is they live a very high and pampered standard especially the ones that bounce around and come from other companies and didn’t actually work grass roots up. With that general observation in mind. I’ve already seen other posts stating that Mayer has a personal assistant providing in office daycare Only for her Privileged child and not the rest of the yahoo employees that are forced on their dime to come into the dead, boring and constant high-touch interrupt driven office, of which they have to pay for their own daycare and someone else gets to raise their children. Mayer makes significantly more income than the rest of the company with share kickbacks, company subsidized benefits, ie. likely a company car or company paid transportation, has more flexibility to leave the office or even work whenever, can get away with a less than 8 hours a day if need be, stands to directly benefit from the policy change I’m certain in someway presently hidden, if you follow the money and look at the lifestyle given to Mayer I’m certain you’ll see who benefits the most from this policy change that is totally backward in contrast with going Greener and helping the environment along with employees who have morale concerns, but are highly productive provided they can take care of their needs. Having a job is great, but the quality life is even greater with regards to allowing flexibility and employee work life balance. Of course she is not forthcoming with the real research that shows that happier employees are more productive. Employees want fairness and equality and they want to share in profits, they want someone who understands who they lead and well if they are forced to do something that is really demanding or makes them put their family on the backburner for a burn-out company that may just shitcan them for easier bottom line as if they are expendable and not important like may other stupid un-American companies that siphon funds from America and just leave those funds overseas either through stupid overseas outsourcing or other very selfish and self-benefiting decisions for the minority in control, there is only so much you can do to your employees before they feel enough is enough and then you are just there alone looking in the mirror telling someone to do something with no external underlings caught up in the hype to do your bidding. Employees may act like they love your policies only to keep a job until something better comes along. Remember always regardless of what institution you occupy, keeping the majority happy is keeping the peace, when you are outnumbered but expect to the house of cards to stand all it takes is one to leave and many can fall afterward. It sure would be nice to see stronger more ethical leaders instead of these lead from the rear types that just think about themselves more entitled than the rest, and otherwise making these arbitrary decisions. American workers are ready for something different that apparently you are not delivering, perhaps you should get to known what matters to your employees while they sacrifice more than you do or would even consider sacrificing while held somewhat in economic captivity to have to bend in ways you clearly do not.

  • Guest

    I agree with Marissa. I left on a two week vacation and I was told the office was a ghost town. When I came back, the VP that told me that then sent out an email that work from home was canceled and needed to be approved on an as needed basis.

    I’m totally down with a work from home here and there. I’m ok with it. It is when it gets abused, which is ALWAYS does, because people keep pushing the limits because some people think they are entitled to it.

    I know many people at MSFT that just hide and go hiking and riding bikes half the week. Actually, hit the trails at MT SI and Marymoore and you’ll see…

    Get back to work and be productive. There is no I in TEAM.

    • Harris

      I know many people who work from home that are as or more productive than ones in the office. Suggesting otherwise is just a hopeless generalization. Some employees are capable of being productive from home and some aren’t. It’s a function of many things: employee maturity, work ethic, the nature of verifiability of the workload, and trust between them and the manager. Can it be abused? Of course. But so can work from office. In your MS example, how much time is lost every day on stupid office politics and gossip?

      • Chris Stephenson

        Harris, Thanks for the post. I think what is surfacing in the Yahoo example is that there was data to show the lack of productivity. I like the criteria you laid out above for having a telecommuting discussion. Unfortunately I think in Yahoo, those criteria are failing and thus the change.

  • RunTheNumbers

    “Look at companies on the various Best Places to Work lists. Yes, they have work from home policies. They also have employees who choose to come to the office.”

    This is they key point here — employees at those companies are compelled to be in the office, because of the nature of their work or the natural vibe. It’s a push-vs-pull scenario, and those desirable companies have a natural pull that encourages others to participate with physical conversation.

    I’m still in wait-and-see mode on the outcome of this decision. I would assume/expect/hope that Mayer has *other* plans to drive the change she’s seeking, beyond basic interaction among colleagues. By itself, I would not expect this to significantly change the work ethic and cultural dynamic of Yahoo.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Thanks for the note. I think that more than just this change will be needed to shift Yahoo’s culture.

  • guest

    Seems like the issue is poor systems in place to determine employee productivity, not their location. This was a stupid move by Mayer and Yahoo is going to lose a lot of productive employees over it.

    • fijiaaron

      There can’t be that many productive employees left at Yahoo.

    • Chris Stephenson

      I agree with this statement that employee measurement is a great way to manage performance whether telecommuting or in house. I believe in the absence of these controls Yahoo made the right decision to bring employees back to the office as she did have the data to support the lack of productivity telecommuting was resulting in at Yahoo:

      • Pro-work-from-home

        Take me to your Leader Over-and-OUT!

  • Jefferson

    I understand that this is an opinion piece, so the author can only speak from his experience. However, it is a tremendous leap to say that Best Buy is “fighting for their lives” simply because they instituted a work from anywhere policy. Also, to then say that “most people just aren’t as self-motivated” as the employee at the biotech firm is an unfounded generalization, especially when the author refers to studies that prove that work-from-home people are more productive. However, the idea of “work from home” vs. “work from office” plan is a great one and would help keep employees’ productivity in check.

    Personally, I want to thank Chris for expressing his opinions on this subject as it helped me determine that his is a company that I will never work for.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Jefferson, thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my post. I take the time to write these opinions so we can socialize our values and positions to others and allow them to become interested in our company or determine they are not a fit. It looks like this article saved time for both of us.

  • Fail

    So basically we have a company whose business is selling the cloud, telling its employees that nothing beats the productivity of brick and mortar. Um, okay.

  • Brian H

    Thanks for thought-provoking article Chris.

  • Gene K

    I have a high trust in all she is doing thus far! It’s her second controversial move against the predicted trends (first with welcoming the internet tracking for advertisers unlike GOOG & MSFT) and now against what is predicted as Mobile work force. I believe she is making one thing clear, that she is experimental, she likes cut the bottom 20% laggards, thereby keeping up the overall morale. However, I don’t believe this is all. She maybe looking for a new synergy, innovating new ways to operate and you can’t do that when there are too many variations. I’d also start with weeding the bottom 20% continuously. I believe she is flexible enough to negotiate with great talents case by case, even providing worthy excuses such as doctor’s prescribed xyz or business development related (bottom-line related) travels. Also, she can always revert to mobile once she has found the synergy (1 Yahoo + 1 Yahoo = 3 Yahoos) she is looking to create.

  • Linda Merrick

    I’m with Chris in that there needs to be a balance. Most of us work in industries that require some degree of collaboration. While the virtual collaboration tools have improved greatly, nothing replaces the high-bandwidth communication effectiveness of face-to-face. In-person interaction builds stronger relationships that make collaboration smoother and work more efficient, and build a stronger foundation for virtual work.

    Productivity is a separate issue, IMHO. Office or home, we all need to be responsible for good time management and block uninterrupted time to be productive.

    I think perhaps one of Yahoo’s goals is to rebuild that sense of team – which, if you get to high-performing teams – results in tremendous productivity.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Linda, thanks for posting, I have little to add except I completely agree!

  • Denis DuBois

    pundits are a class?

  • Guest

    I really feel Marissa Mayer threw a lot of professional women under the bus here, since women still provide the majority of primary care-giving for children and other dependents (elderly parents, etc). Many of these women are also incredibly intelligent, driven professionals who have a lot to contribute to their work teams. It seems like a lose-lose for everyone here!
    To be clear, I am not saying this is an issue that only affects women – to the contrary, I am sure it will affect many men as well.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Thanks for the post. I hope your feeling turns out wrong because I agree that losing a female workforce would move us back in the business world. With half of our leadership female, we are very aware of the requirements that come with family. I believe that any results focused employee can find a balance between work and life that works for both the employee and the company. I also believe that anyone that performs at Yahoo today will be able to have that discussion with management. Marissa made a new rule and I am sure will allow the right exceptions.

  • Christopher Budd

    Thanks I have to say that this is a better analysis of this than most of what I’ve seen.

    Certainly making the point that this was a decision about Yahoo and should be viewed as such is a good point and one that needs to be made to calm the chattering classes.

    But when breaking that rule and talking about this more broadly I think this article is missing the bigger points I outlined earlier ( The right thing to focus on is what the right work arrangement is broadly for workers based on their role. Work from home is but one piece of that broader question.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Chris, thanks for posting the article. I think it is a great compliment to what I have written and provides a better focus on the overarching telecommuting conversation. While I am focusing on Yahoo and companies in their situation, I felt your post really tackled a bunch of the concerns raised in this comment section.

      • Christopher Budd

        Sure, thank you for the article and the comment.

  • Christopher J C Sorensen

    Seems like they’re on to something? Really? This is the old way were talking about. You know, the way it’s been for many years. Seems smarter to find a way to make it work then to go back to the old way. Remember, there are many more people wishing to work from home that can’t do this yet… To speak of those that have motivation issues doesn’t speak for everyone. Just when we try to revolutionize the workplace, some yahoo has to come and knock down a great thing. Remember this too… We live in different times. Commuting equals traffic equals gas equals money equals time equals family equals cost… We’re trying to fix problems here Marissa and Chris… Your being primitive.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Christopher, thanks for your thoughts. I am not suggesting in this post that we move back to the dark ages and avoid telecommuting altogether, but I am suggesting that we need to continue to measure how it works out in companies that have a policy. When productivity at a company is the cost of a liberal telecommuting policy, then changes need to be made. I am confident Yahoo will baseline this shift and ultimately have some version of telecommuting again and I expect it will be a better policy than the one currently revoked. That is what progress and problem fixing is to me.

  • greatbigsea

    I have never seen as much waste of time and effort as in corporate life. I’ve done my time in that environment. And have worked from home, or wherever I happen to be, for over a decade now. My current colleagues are 100, 4,000 and 5,000 miles away. Or to put it another way, as near as typing a word into a chat window, or making a Skype call. It’s 2013 people. If you like being in an office, great. But quit sniping at the many many people who are doing just fine without the endless meetings, interruptions, presenteeism and slacking off of many workplaces…

    • Chris Stephenson

      Greatbigsea, Congrats on finding a career that allows you the freedoms you are looking for. I think telecommuting can work for some but I stand behind the statement that it is not working everywhere and companies where productivity are impacted need to address the issue.

    • saneandreasonable

      That is nice. I too work from home from time to time, but it is once a month at most. The office changes the mindset, and let’s be honest, there alot of temptations to do something else other than work. Employees are spoiled now. They need to realize that work is determined by the employer. If you don’t like working in the office, then don’t work for a corporation that wants that . For me, it should be 80% office, 20% home for my staff at the most.

  • David Blade III

    Working from home means reading Safari Books Online at 11pm while lying next to your wife after spending 9am-8pm at the office.

  • JC

    Good luck finding high quality developers to join your company in this day and age with a mindset like this. Whether you like it or not you will be effed as a tech company if you you only attract and hire developers capable and willing to be in the office full time without the flexibility to escape and find more productive venues for creation.

    Yahoo will be scraping from the bottom of the barrel with these policies before too long. There simply aren’t enough talented devs to go around. Good luck Marissa you’re goig to need it.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Hi JC, I think the definition of high quality shifts by company and I can only speak for myself. The most important aspect I look for is someone willing to join a team environment and work together to solve issues. Those employees are looking to collaborate and have demanded more office space from us to work rather than less. I consider everyone in our firm high quality but again that is by my standards. I think Yahoo is looking for a similar team environment right now and understands that some high quality performers might opt out.

      • Pro-work-from-home

        Who’s issues are you solving, and don’t say the Company’s. Basically you are referencing doing things the Old school lethargic way and coming in and doing think-tank for so the CEO Mayer can put her stamp of approval on the work as if it were her’s yeah, what a good use of money bring in a problem solver that simple makes others do more of her work, it’s good to be the Queen.

  • Dylan Wilbanks

    I usually end up working from home because I can’t work at work, not with the saturation of my calendar with meetings. At home I have fewer distractions and fewer unplanned interruptions.

    But I would never WFH 40 hours a week, because meetings via Skype or WebEx suck. And some of those meetings are vital to what I need to do as a designer.

    Yahoo figured out what I did: WFH only works if you actually work from home. If you’re burned out and literally phoning it in, it’s time to get a better job.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Great post Dylan and thank you for highlighting the balance with a personal example.

  • Lili

    I’m not sure if I agree with this new policy. Depending on job functions and personalities, there are benefits to working from the office and home especially now in the digital age. At my IT firm, many of the developers say they are more productive working from home and will not come to the office when they are very busy in order to get more work done. I telecommute 2x/week and find that I’m able to knock out more work at home than the office. My boss knows that I’m productive because I’m online and with the volume of work we do, it would be very obvious to know who’s slacking off. I also do appreciate working from the office a few days/week so I can interact my coworkers and find it more useful for team meetings and brainstorming sessions.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Hi Lili, I think the very important point you have outlined is that you balance coming to the office with telecommuting and focus the decisions on what makes you most productive at certain times. If this thinking could scale across the business world, I think productivity could go up at any company regardless of the current policies around telecommuting.

  • Christopher Smith

    Work at home privys don’t get banned if employees are actually working at home. This was how Yahoo let data drive the decision.

  • Mike_Acker

    Marissa is right: WFH employees are out of the loop and a burden on the office staff.

    there are times when an employee should work independently without interruptions,– particularly when writing code or other types of similar work that requires concentarion.

    this note is not op-ed: it’s from years of experience .

  • wildsubet

    WFH is great in the right situation and the right personnel. Yahoo obviously decided it was not working for them. My guess is this is a temporary move to get jettison some dead weight and some sort of WFH program will be gradually allowed back into the company over the next year. As to the work harder comment from Evernote, some days that is true. The company gets what would be my commute time from me when warranted. Sometimes I get that back. It’s a fair trade off, imo.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Agreed. I think this mandate is temporary and will result in a more thoughtful policy from Yahoo.

  • John Smith

    Is just a busy press that needs to make one company’s policy change to signify the new normal civilization. Yahoo will do what Yahoo needs and company X will do what company X must.

  • Stinky

    The idea that Best Buy’s telecommuting policy is the cause of their decline is a punchline to a joke that we’re still waiting to hear. Bring it!

  • Rob Howard

    “Years ago, Best Buy was emphasizing a “work from anywhere” concept and now they are fighting for their lives. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

    That’s a nice single data point you have there. Anything else? :-|

  • MikeS

    I’ve been working from home for four years now. I live in Seattle and my home base is in Denver. One thing left out of the article is the acuision of talent. A company can choose to garner everyone in the same space, and choose from a limited pool of employees, or choose to pursue the best throughout the country or even world. My company did the later. The team I built is all remote, from Texas, Cali, Washington, Atlanta, etc. There are a lot of challenges being a virtual team, but productivity is higher than being co-located, with the exception of design time where being in the same room really helps. During design time we all travel to the home office to solve this problem. It’s not for everyone, but if managed right it is amazing for home life. My daughter never wants to go to an office again because she knows I’m always there when she needs me.

    • Chris Stephenson

      Mike, Your company clearly has a great vision and well thought out recruiting strategy that has allowed for this situation. I think you are right that broadening the geographical boundries increases the talent pool. However, for Yahoo, I think this strategy would be high risk at this time until the vision is consistent and the current staff is loyal. Yahoo clearly lost that with the current work from home policy and I applaud them for making a change that strengthens the company. In the long term, they should look to a model closer to what you mention above but first they have to get back to the basics. As they are really needing a central strategy right now, I think having the team in the office is very important.

  • Pro-work-from-home

    To all who comment, I’ve seen nothing but tons of PR Trolling on this article. To that I wish I could iterate in a somewhat sarcastic robotic voice to get my point across…”Take me to your Leader OVER-and-OUT!” Seriously what DEAD innovation. Alright ya’all pilgrims come leave those family farms and work in the city slicker factories, because the trade off is so good, right? Last time I checked it was 2013 not 1913. But 100 years ago in the making with regards to this innovation.

    • Chris Stephenson

      It is a shame that folks who do not use their name are allowed to post. I agree with some comments from my initial article and disagree with others, however, I respect everyone of them because they stand behind their statements. Pro-Work, you hide behind a fake name and make disparaging unproductive remarks. I understand why you don’t want to use your name and I feel sorry that you have to create a new alias just to respond. I hope some day you can take a stand as yourself.

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