Telecommuting does not work for Yahoo according to Marissa Mayer

by Grace

Skimming through the recent buzz arising from Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting for all employees, Penelope Trunk’s perspective seemed one of the most sensible.

Mayer is more honest than everyone else. The workforce divides into two sides: people who try very hard to decrease the conflict in their life between work and home, and people who try very hard to get to the top of the work world. You can’t do both. You know that, you just don’t like that Mayer is institutionalizing it.

There are valid reasons for requiring face-to-face interaction.

The Harvard Business Review combines easily-found data to show that innovation happens faster if people work at the same office, and company culture is easier to control and more energizing if people share physical space. Also face-time is linked to higher performance, which is linked to the idea of propinquity, the word to describe why people work better if they are in the same room. If you are near someone, you get along with them better. It’s how human beings work—it’s part of our social DNA that goes back millions of years. We understand each other if we see each other, which makes sense since we read so many nonverbal cues.  So people who are physically together are more efficient, more productive, and more innovative than people who are not physically together.

This is the type of data Mayer is relying on to justify her demand that people work at the office. Sure, there is data that individual workers are more productive if you let them handle their personal life with flexible work. But there is also evidence that top firms don’t need to accommodate those people. In Silicon Valley, home to Facebook, Google, Airbnb,none of most desirable companies make room for a personal life. They don’t have to. They have plenty of people hoping to give up their whole life to the company.

I’m familiar with workplaces where more men than women are willing “to give up their whole life to the company”, having worked at one such place.  These types of employers typically do not have many women in the top spots.

It didn’t work for me.

When I had a part-time telecommuting arrangement for a while, I fooled myself into thinking it would not significantly hurt my career growth.  I should have known that as one of the very few employees able to work from home, I was doomed, as this comment from 11D explains.

The worst arrangements are ones in which on-site work is the norm, but a small minority are frequently/continually remote. In those situations, there’s little incentive for the on-site workers to fight with Adobe Connect or Campfire or whatever teleconferencing tools will allow the remote members to be involved in the work — an involvement that will still be hindered by the asymmetries of not being in the room. The easiest option is for everyone else to assign the remote member something unimportant to the team’s success and then ignore them. (I should point out that in these cases, the manager is rarely remote.)

I was a manager, and I remember dreading this type of subtle warning sign that my flextime days were over.

… You get an email from a coworker that starts with ‘X was looking for you, but I helped them…’

Even though Mayer wants women to succeed in business, she will no longer let them work from home.  With a bit of hyperbole, Trunk explains why.

Telecommuting is for people who don’t want to give up everything for their company. Mayer doesn’t want to work with people like that.

Face the facts.

Women graduate college at a higher rate than men and women earn more money than men. Until there are kids. Then women slow down.  By choice. Women tend to start slowing down at work around age 28  in order to be done having kids by the time they are 35Generation Y women are well aware of this, and the pattern is so ubiquitous that business schools unofficially let women in earlier than men because women need to finish working at full-capacity so early in their career.

Which means the top performers at work are mostly men. But it’s not a gender thing, it’s a time thing. That’s what Marissa Mayer is saying: don’t think about coming to my company unless you’ll give everything for your job.

While we can’t “have it all”, we have many more choices today.

If you want to parent—really be there for your kids—then you need an alternative career track. You can telecommute, you can work part-time, you can freelance, you just can’t work with people who don’t need those same accommodations.

So today, people have choices, people have more control over their lives than ever, and people have good information to make intelligent decisions. Mayer is forcing you to make hard decisions. You don’t like that. But don’t blame her.

Did Mayer start a trend?  Best Buy ends work-from-home program (CNN Money)


2 Comments to “Telecommuting does not work for Yahoo according to Marissa Mayer”

  1. If there’s a trend, it may just be among no-hope companies. When was the last time you bought something from Best Buy?


  2. So, in order to revive their companies they’re willing to try almost anything, unpopular as it may be to some.


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