Green Room

Yahoo to end home officing

posted at 1:17 pm on February 26, 2013 by

Isn’t this just a little counterintuitive for a company whose focus is solely on the Internet?  The struggling pioneer in the field wants to return to a brick-and-mortar paradigm, in part for productivity, and in part to re-establish a social and business culture internally:

Yahoo’s decision is meant to foster collaboration, according to a company memo sent to employees Friday.

Yahoo’s head of human resources, Jackie Reses, wrote that communication and collaboration will be important as the company works to be “more productive, efficient and fun.” To make that happen, she said, “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.” …

The struggling Internet icon burned through four CEOs and shed thousands of workers in the few years preceding the appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO last year. Her appointment gained further notoriety when she disclosed that she was pregnant at the time of her hiring.

Mayer has since whipped the company into shape — the stock price is up about 50% — with a series of executive changes and acquisitions. Her latest edict is motivated, in part, by a desire to improve productivity among Yahoo employees who work from home and to weed out unproductive workers, according to a former Yahoo employee who recently departed for another job. He asked not to be identified because his current employer works with Yahoo.

Authors Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler — who wrote Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix it: A Results-Only Guide to Taking Control of Work, Not People – say Mayer is making a mistake.

“Mayer has taken a giant leap backward,” they said in a joint statement. “Instead of keeping great talent, she is going to find herself with a workplace full of people who are good at showing up and putting in time vs. a workforce that could most effectively and efficiently drive the business forward in the 21st century.”

I’ve been home-officing for almost six years now, and I don’t think anyone is terribly concerned about my productivity.  That doesn’t mean I don’t miss being in an office environment, especially the last couple of weeks after giving up Twitter for Lent.  However, my work as a writer doesn’t have much of a collaborative component to it, which makes it easier for us to have a distributed office environment.

I think this says something interesting about Mayer in contrast to the recent trend in human-resource management.  The distributed-office model assumes that there is no value added by bringing employees into close proximity and allowing social connections to occur within the brick-and-mortar environment, and that those actually are net negatives for quantity and quality of work.  Mayer seems to believe the opposite.  It will be interesting to see which ends up being correct, but Mayer’s is definitely the most optimistic about human nature and its role in commerce.

A CBS panel thinks this might be a smart move, especially given Yahoo’s market position these days. Mayer needs more innovation, and that requires much more collaboration — and she has a very surprising model on which to rely:

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I have done both. Everyone loves the idea of waking up and working in their pajamas. Unfortunately, there are times when you just have to put your pants on and go into the office to get something done. Many of my decisions are influenced by hallway discussions with co-workers. The internet does not provide that kind of connection, yet.

jya lai on February 26, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Get back to work, Ed.

Guy Benson on February 26, 2013 at 1:41 PM

I have a Yahoo email account as does my wife. Had it so long now, hate to change to another. It used to be every two years like clockwork I’d have to change my email account for one reason or another. We’d like to drop Yahoo but kind of feel “locked” at the present moment. Would rather NOT go to Google for their email. They get enough business.

Yahoo’s been spending the past few years continually revamping their email display and their page display, along with their news integration with ABC. Every time they make an “update”, it’s frankly stupid.

Most of their articles bite. I realize they’re trying to get reports and articles out there quickly, but many of the articles look like stuff most of us could churn out of a meat grinder – not something you’d kind of expect with some sort of journalistic effort towards grammar. The articles come across quite often as lazy. Hmm… home reporting have anything to do with that??

Maybe brick and mortar is what Yahoo needs, because it’s evident that their current paradigm is producing a lot of garbage.

Logus on February 26, 2013 at 2:14 PM

Get back to work, Ed.

Guy Benson on February 26, 2013 at 1:41 PM

So much for collaboration …. *sigh*.

Ed Morrissey on February 26, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Some people can work just fine alone, others not so. It also depends upon what the task it and how one has to go about it. Quite often I do better when others are around because at heart I’m a lazy procrastinator. But with others around, depending upon the task, I can become a work-a-holic. In general I have a good work ethic – once you get past the lazy procrastination! :D

I’ve worked along and in teams, and there have been times in both situations where I can see that I’d have done just as well or better in an opposite situation vis-a-vis co-workers or a boss.

The trick for Yahoo might then be trying to find a balance. If someone is producing sloppy work, rein them in. If someone is being very productive, give them some room.

Frankly though, I think Yahoo’s got more problems than whether or not to have their employees all under a roof and sitting in cubicles.

Logus on February 26, 2013 at 2:26 PM

Unfortunately, there are times when you just have to put your pants on

So many possibilities…. Only half of them will get me banned…….

It’s an intelligent move if it’s handled well. The government does not allow support contractors to telecommute, generally. First and foremost, it is to prevent people from simply claiming work hours while they’re doing other things. You know, ’cause that could *never* happen actually in the office.

GWB on February 26, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Get back to work, Ed.

Guy Benson on February 26, 2013 at 1:41 PM

I think the proper phrase (from Demotivators) is:
Get back to work! You’re not being paid to realize your dreams!
;)

GWB on February 26, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Unfortunately, there are times when you just have to put your pants on and go into the office to get something done.

I actually find I am more productive at home than at the office. There are a LOT of distractions at work and being unmarried without kids, there are few distractions at home.

Many of my decisions are influenced by hallway discussions with co-workers. The internet does not provide that kind of connection, yet.

jya lai on February 26, 2013 at 1:31 PM

On the other hand this is true, too. I would not have mastered my current job so quickly had I worked completely from home.

Doomberg on February 26, 2013 at 3:39 PM

If you need to strengthen the teamwork aspect of your business, this is a great idea. Nothing better than a good old face to face to produce some solutions. I think it really depends on what business you are in. What is good for one group of folks, might not be the answer for others. That is why CEOs get paid the big bucks, to figure out what is needed.

gator70 on February 26, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Ed: Too bad you are on the twitter-wagon. I think you might find this guy interesting: https://twitter.com/exsacerdotal

He’s a priest and a chaplain in the British Army.

Blake on February 26, 2013 at 5:28 PM

I think she took the easy way out. No telecommuting means that a talented programmer or designer who lives in Montana has no place in Yahoo. The company will lose talented people by mandating buns in chairs. I don’t think the gains will exceed the losses.

Also sounds like she might be trying for an effortless staff cut.

Only time will tell.

jclittlep on February 26, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Hey Ed,

Might want to read this article. Apparently former Yahoo employees admit that many people on staff that WFM are lazy, aren’t productive, unreachable, and are simply collecting easy paychecks.

I’d assume those that are legit workers will get to WFM again, but it’s pretty clear that right now she is separating the wheat from the chaff.

thinkingthought on February 26, 2013 at 6:03 PM

In order to work from home, you really need to payed on the basis of work completed, not the hours you “put in”.

Count to 10 on February 26, 2013 at 6:31 PM

Yahoo sees Google getting good work out of their employees and sees collaboration together as an overall better strategy for success.

I don’t know, however, how successful changing canoes in the middle of the stream is going to be.

itsspideyman on February 26, 2013 at 6:57 PM

I don’t know how many truly remote workers Yahoo has, but it seems like a way to assure attrition for those not on-site. Yahoo may need to trim its workforce anyway, perhaps.

virgo on February 26, 2013 at 8:40 PM

Mayer is making a mistake.

“Mayer has taken a giant leap backward,” they said in a joint statement. “Instead of keeping great talent, she is going to find herself with a workplace full of people who are good at showing up and putting in time

…yep!…but they are JugEar supporters…that’s all they do…is show up!

KOOLAID2 on February 26, 2013 at 10:51 PM