Marissa Mayer and The Remote Employee Fiasco

At the age of 37, Marissa Mayer left her post as a Google vice president on July 16, 2012, to take over as Yahoo!’s new CEO. The young executive was charged with the arduous task of reviving the struggling Internet company and focusing employee efforts on core competencies. So far, Wall Street has been impressed with her work, boosting the stock price up by $5.52 (35.39%) per share to a 52-week high of $21.16 since the announcement she would grab the reins.

Mayer continued to make waves earlier this week when she declared that full-time employees working remotely and telecommuting would have to physically come into the office starting in June. Previously, Yahoo! had a very liberal policy giving workers flexibility.  In a memo to employees, the human resources department declared:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

Outside reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. People argue that these employees, some who took the position assuming they could work from home, have to pick up in a matter of months and move their families to the Bay Area. Furthermore, they propose that face time in the office does not directly correlate with productivity, and the only result will be lowered morale. Yahoo! employees as a whole aren’t coming out in support of the initiative, either. Many sources have sent tech reporter Kara Swisher snarky comments taking jabs at the new policy.

The company would not elaborate on the number of employees the move will affect. However, it is believed that many employees telecommute at least one day a week in addition to the hundreds of workers that work from home full time. Yahoo!’s old policies on telecommuting were very similar to other tech companies, allowing employees to use their discretion. But the practice is not exactly encouraged across the sector. Google CFO Patrick Pichette spoke about his company’s view recently: 

“The surprising question we get is: ‘How many people telecommute at Google?’ And our answer is: ‘As few as possible’ … There is something magical about sharing meals. There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer ‘What do you think of this?’ These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities.”

Though the policy change might seem drastic, Mayer needed to take swift action to help get Yahoo! back on track. The Internet company once stood as a market leader. In fact, Yahoo! was founded three years before current industry-leader Google. However, the company has remained stagnant as other players have shown tremendous growth. The lack of success can be attributed heavily to a shortage of innovation and a culture of disparate efforts. A few former Yahoo! employees have confirmed that many were taking advantage of the work-from-home policy. Managers could not be reached for guidance. Some were dedicating time to other ventures while on the clock.

When employees are not in the office consistently, it creates a whole host of problems. Because employees are not interacting face-to-face on a daily basis, there is not a sense of camaraderie. Workers do not feel part of a larger organization, and they are not as motivated to pour their heart and soul into value-creating activities. Furthermore, impromptu idea sharing does not take place in cubicles, cafeterias, or at the water cooler. The creative process is limited to scheduled meetings, which makes it difficult for Yahoo! to introduce and cultivate innovative new initiatives. Last but not least, productivity suffers. Workers stationed remotely are likely to begin their day later, be distracted by a variety of chores, and call it quits earlier than they would if they were in the office. Marissa Mayer has a duty to her employees to create an exciting place to work. Morale is an important component, but it can’t be the sole focus at the expense of productivity and efficiency. It’s obvious that the previous policies were being abused, and she deserves credit for trying to infuse accountability and cohesion into Yahoo’s fabric as they look to regain prominence.

2 thoughts on “Marissa Mayer and The Remote Employee Fiasco

  1. I agree with you that everyone suffers when employees telecommute- the employee does not get as many promotions and projects because s/he is not seen by the employer, and not as many spontaneous ideas occur. However, I disagree that telecommuting employees are less likely to work as hard as those in the office. In fact, studies have shown that they actually work more than regular employees, perhaps because they are trying to compensate and keep up. (http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/21_02_04.pdf)

  2. I dont really agree with the change Marisa Meyer made at Google. Its been said that people work better when they have the flexibility be to do so and don’t have anyone standing on their neck all the time. Further it is unfair to the Yahoo employees who can’t afford the same type of treatment Ms. Meyer has given herself to make sure her baby is taken care of. I am talking about the huge nursery she built right next to her office.

    It will be interesting to see our this significant change turn out

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