Thursday, February 28, 2013


UPDATE - March 7, 2013 One week after YAHOO! announced that it would no longer allow telecommuting, Best Buy, the struggling home appliance and electronics giant, announced it will now do much the same thing. Best Buy will end a program started in 2005 that allowed many of its corporate employees to work flexible hours, including some from their homes. Click here to read the details. The original post about YAHOO! follows below:
From all outward appearances, Marissa Mayer is the epitome of a 21st century young business-woman, balancing her formidable work life and her new role as mother. Mayer, 37, is the Stanford-educated over-achiever who just last year was installed as CEO of YAHOO!, after a 13-year career with Google. Her trajectory, while enviable (she will earn a reported $59 million this year), hit a nasty public image snag last week, when she announced that the approximately 12,000 YAHOO! employees who telecommute will now be required to work regular business hours in the office. For a company that has touted itself as the “grandfather” of the tech industry, Mayer’s announcement seemed to some about as forward-thinking as a manual typewriter.

Among those who will be adversely affected by Mayer’s decision are physically challenged workers, some who care for disabled or elderly relatives, those who live great distances from the workplace, and especially parents, who have found the best of both worlds, being able to raise their children at home and have fruitful careers. It is the latter group who are the focus of much of the media swell that resulted from Mayer’s announcement.
The media has demonstrated sharp division in its reaction to Mayer’s decision. One wonders how many more articles with titles like “5 Reasons Melissa Mayer is Right” or “3 Reasons Melissa Mayer is Short-Sighted” will flood the editorial inventory before the dust settles. But one thing is for sure: Mayer’s decision is a one-way ticket back to 1973ish, when everybody got up every day, put on their best corporate duds, inhaled coffee, delivered the kids to strangers and took off for big glass boxes to invest their eight hours into whatever it was they did to make money to buy coffee and have kids. It was an inefficient way to run a world then and it certainly makes no sense in 2013, when gas lingers near $4 a gallon, there are more single parents than ever before in American history and the big glass box office buildings cost more than ever to maintain. What in the world was she thinking?

Well, according to the digital doyenne, togetherness is the key to success: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Mayer wrote in a memo to the staff. "That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices."

Oh Marissa, Marissa, Marissa. Take it from an almost-60-year-old American worker who has worked in one office or another for decades, right next door and down the hall from hundreds (thousands?) of others who have also worked in their own corporate boxes: Togetherness is highly over-rated in the workplace. What galls me more than anything is that you, Marissa, know that to be true.

First, many of your workers get to their offices in the morning and never leave them, except possibly to go to lunch or the restroom, until they leave at 5 p.m. How is that collaborative? Second, about those many married and single parents who work for you: Because your company graciously enabled many of them to work from home, they do not have to pay the astronomical monthly fees for childcare services. Unless you are planning to reasonably increase their salaries, I’m wondering how you expect them to adjust to your new rules.

According to a September, 2012 report from Child Care Aware of America, a year of full-time childcare in a center for a 4-year-old costs an average of $3,900 in Mississippi, compared to $11,700 in Massachusetts, while care for an infant costs $4,600 in Mississippi, compared to nearly $15,000 in Massachusetts. Still not convinced? Get this: In California, where YAHOO!’s corporate offices are located, the average cost of full-time infant child care is more than $11,500, almost double average tuition and fees at a public college. Average full-time day care costs for a four-year-old in California is more than $8,200 — and it also exceeds the almost $6,000 tab for a year at a public college, according to the report by the National Association of Child Resource and Referral Agencies in Arlington, Va.

So, Marissa, is it reasonable and humane for you to expect your workers to add $11,500 to their annual expenses for childcare, not to mention the cost of their commute to and from work, without adjusting their salaries? If Mayer’s answer falls under the “Not my problem” category, that may have something to do with the fact that she brings her own four-month old child (left) to work with her, and has the distinct advantage of having a nursery in her office. Your average worker will not, of course, have that option. While I applaud Mayer’s ability to run a $4 billion company while simultaneously raising a newborn child, it does seem rather non-empathetic of her to expect her underlings to achieve work/life balance with their kids miles away in costly daycare centers. It is complex territory. Watch this report from ABC News:
 The real issue here, however, is Mayer’s commitment to her belief that togetherness is the key to the company’s success. Not so, say researchers. In fact, a Forester Research report projects that 43 percent of Americans will work off-site at least one day a week by 2016. A recent Stanford University study of 249 call center workers at a Chinese travel agency found that those who were randomly selected to work from home four days a week for nine months -- after they volunteered to do so -- experienced a 13 percent increase in their work performance. There are other studies that show increases in productivity for those who work at home, and additional studies that indicate worker satisfaction increases with autonomy and independence from an office setting.

To Marissa Mayer, I would say this: Those 12,000 bodies you want to add to the in-house corporate culture so they can have that free exchange of ideas in person? Many of them will spend their time talking and focusing on anything but their jobs. They will talk a lot about you, and how you have single-handedly set the workplace back a good 25 years. They will talk about each other, about the fabulous new restaurant they went to last night, about how their wireless service sucks, about how somebody’s dress at the Oscars was inappropriate, about when new episodes of “Mad Men” are supposed to debut, about how ridiculously expensive Super Bowl tickets are, about how worried they are about their spouses’ job security, about how hot so-and-so is down the hall…..Marissa, they will talk about almost anything except work. You already know that because you have worked in the corporate culture your whole adult life. So why be so idealistic to believe that returning to a 20th century business model will save a struggling company like YAHOO! in the 21st century?

 Mayer is YAHOO!’s 5th CEO in six years. That is very telling about the current state of the company. She is clearly attempting to make an unprecedented move in a desperate attempt to turn the company around. Desperation doesn’t solve problems in corporateland, I have found. Strong leadership and smart supervision, a nurturing business environment and humane treatment of employees will go much further than squeezing another 12,000 people into a big glass box.