"At-Home/Off-Site" Work Arrangements: Is Yahoo's Marissa Mayer Really Trying to Bomb Them Back to the Stone Age? Come on....

I think I understand Mayer's reason for looking to revamp the off-site work policy at Yahoo.  Lots of work-at-home employees, in a company that has been flailing for years, is not going to be the most productive configuration of workforce. 

However, I find it hard to believe that Mayer thinks that a sudden pendulum shift in this policy will bring the company directly to the optimum configuration. In fact, I would strenuously argue  that having no one working from home/off-site is "way, way far" from the optimum.  But I can see that such a "shock treatment" might be correct for Yahoo right now — possibly... (maybe?).   It sends a strong message, shakes things up, may lose a lot of dead wood (and some stars?) — perhaps from a legal HR standpoint, it's just the easiest, most practical, lowest risk way of doing it... (?).  It's like pressing the reset button. 

Perhaps not surprisingly though, after the announcement, so much of the almost-always-polarized media discussion seems to have confuted the logic of the Mayer's management tactic with the larger question of achieving an optimal workforce management strategy/configuration.

In our industry, we must certainly know that Mayer's move is hardly an assertion that at-home and off-site work is a simply "a bad idea" to be abandoned. Instead, the optimal balance of such at-home/off-site work with on-site employee/contractor work is something that must be looked at and decided upon down to the level of each and every worker and job: what is appropriate in each case, including considerations of whether the at-home/off-site work arrangement is permanent (always and forever), of a limited duration, sporadic (eg., 3 days out of office, two days in, every week).

In summary, I seriously doubt that Mayer is suggesting that modern forms of work arrangements be bombed back to the stone age. She is simply taking a radical management step in trying to save a failing business. The overall question of how specific work arrangements should be configured to reach maximum productivity and meet the needs of any organization and its talent should be analyzed and discussed independently of this management tactic. And it is up to the staffing industry to clarify any creeping bias associated with Mayer's sweeping policy change.


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Matt Rivera03/18/2013 02:56 pm

Andrew - getting to this post a little late but enjoyed your perspective. I think that as you said, many reacted to the bigger issue. But for Yahoo the big issue is survival so it may be necessary. It's similar to the arguments for and against the heavy use of temporary labor, independent contract, consultants, etc. You have to find the right mix, in the right areas to optimize the workforce. I don't think there's an all-or-nothing way to do things anymore. Because that option exists you have to expand your approach - you can't ignore it and can't 100% avoid it. I expect it will come back in some form at some point.

Lastly, I have been reading that she's a bit of a data freak. I think the decision was also made when she looked at VPN logs and realized that 5-hour days and lack of activity on Friday afternoons probably wasn't helping Yahoo's competitive position very much.

Bond International Software

Steve Taylor03/05/2013 02:00 pm

Andrew, interesting topic and you make some very good points. I am a supporter of telecommuting and have been for a number of years. With the awful traffic in Atlanta you can’t hire and retain great talent without having some sort of flexible work schedule. Telecommuting can and should work for both the employer as well as the employees and generally speaking I think it does. But there is a very real downside for the organization and I think that potentially is what Mayer is feeling and that is a loss of energy. It begins as she describes when you pull into the parking lot. There is something to be said about getting into the office and the parking lot being filled with energetic and enthusiastic talent, people that are motived and interested in helping to advance the organization. That activity breeds energy. Energy breeds creativity, excitement, and ultimately one hopes success. It is really hard to generate the same level of energy when the offices are empty, the breakroom is quiet and meeting rooms are seldom used. You just don’t get the same result by phone calls and skyping. Perhaps as you suggest Mayer is simply taking a unique approach to culling the workforce, but I think she senses that the company has lost its edge and is trying to restore the hum that got Yahoo to where it was. It’s a gutsy move, one that is certain to shake things up, but at the end of the day I think she will build momentum and create an exciting work environment. At least she will give the Yahoo employees and shareholders a fighting chance at turning things around.

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