After seven months on the job, Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer abruptly ordered remote workers to report to the company’s physical plant, triggering a fiery debate between work-at-home supporters and critics. According to a Feb. 26 CNN article, Yahoo employs about 11,500 workers but will not say how many are at-home workers. Workers will have until June to show up at an office, relocate or resign.
A Feb. 27 Forbes article sums up the two major positions. Supporters insist that the workplace is the only place for real work to happen. Opponents insist that good workers in the right positions can get more work done at home. A third position is that Yahoo has serious management problems and a troubled corporate culture, so the goal is to bring everyone into the office to work out the problems together.
Her supporters take a traditionalist stance, claiming that Mayer’s recall will improve accountability and performance. Mayer’s detractors call her decision a backward move that could cause other firms to recall their remote workers.
Mayer’s decision came in a memo from Human Resources Director Jackie Reses, who said
“We need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
It is true that Mayer must improve Yahoo’s fortunes and culture at the same time, and the best way to do that is to bring everyone together in the workplace. Remote workers are definitely isolated from others and Email and phone conversations are no match for regular human contact.
However, the following statement set Mayer and Yahoo’s leadership farther apart from the employees, “And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.”
Mayer already lost some of her glow when she boasted about taking only two weeks off and gave herself a nursery so she could care for her baby at work. An Oct. 2, 2012 CNN Money article raised questions about her ability to understand or relate to the realities that her employees face,
“On the other hand, her decision seems emblematic of a workaholic culture that leaves too little time for family or even personal health, preventing either men or women from ‘having it all.’ Could Mayer be setting unrealistic expectations for young women hoping to follow in her footsteps? Maybe she’s an outlier — or making a mistake — and shouldn’t be held up as an example that mere mortals should emulate.”
Mayer has other problems that indicate a disconnect with real world leadership. She is said to make her employees wait for up to an hour for meetings with her. This behavior shows disregard for employees who must spend face time with her.
While some positions, especially programming, engineering and some clerical jobs are best for work-at-home arrangements, other jobs might not be as appropriate. The real world outcome is that Yahoo’s remote workers will face a sudden, catastrophic change to their work structure. Recalled employees must adjust their budgets without more pay for travel, work clothes and uncompensated overtime. They will face drastic changes to their work related hours. Workers will be far from home. Families will have less time with each other and single parents will face many more hardships. Most of them will still have to leave work for personal affairs like doctor’s visits, car repairs and “cable-guy” appointments.
The decision has certainly caused a much wider national conversation about remote work opportunities, benefits and drawbacks. However, the bottom line is that Mayer carries a heavy burden while she is handicapped in relating to the employees who are her most valuable asset. She must deliver on her promises to improve Yahoo’s culture and fortunes, but she does not want to end up like Carly Fiorina. Fiorina made the wrong cultural changes, angered employees and famously lost her CEO position at Hewlitt Packard.