There’s been a welcome workplace trend in recent years towards “telecommuting,” whereby employees can work from home. In what's called a “Results Only Work Environment" employees are evaluated only on their performance not their presence at work. Some studies show it increases productivity—and presumably workers achieve better work-life balance and reduce their carbon footprint. Reed Hastings the founder of Netflix now calls face-time requirements “a relic of the industrial age.”
But wait! After taking over as Yahoo CEO (while expecting a baby), Marissa Mayer recently stunned the business world by demanding that her employees begin working from the office starting June 1. There were immediate howls of betrayal from telecommuting moms nationwide who expected more family-friendly policies from an enlightened ex-Google executive and new mom. I've already read three critiques that reference the famous line from The Who: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
There has even been speculation that this was a stealth layoff to purge payroll at the under-performing company!
Yet there’s a strong case to be made that innovation flourishes when there is at least some face-to-face collaboration (even with those who prefer to work alone). Certainly among a company’s leaders and key contributors. (Apple execs, for instance, always meet eyeball-to-eyeball every Monday morning.)
But Bill Davidow at the Atlantic backs Mayer’s edict for a better reason: to create a winning culture. This, he says, consists of “determination, discipline, teamwork, commitment, belief that you can overcome adversity”—which Yahoo currently lacks. (Read it here.) In other words, if Yahoo were rocking and rolling, of course they should give moms (and pops) a break and let them work from anywhere, as long as they do their job. It’s a win-win-win (if you include environmental benefits). But that isn’t the case here. Yahoo’s in trouble long-term. Without a cultural renewal there won’t be Yahoo employees working anywhere.
But, damn, it’s a lot more fun to be cynical, isn’t it? (And any time is a good time to break out “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”—a great track from The Who’s greatest album—especially in vinyl.) Yet after Yahoo has churned through four CEOs in two years, I'm here to tell you Marissa Mayer really IS a new boss.