Yahoo’s Work From Home Fail

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Working moms everywhere are no doubt aware of the dustup this week over Yahoo’s new policy banning working from home. In an age where telecommuting is the rule rather than the exception in many companies, this move shocked and horrified business leaders. At my company, gyro’s Rick Segal even wrote an article in Forbes on why this is a bad move. Just look at the SERP for “yahoo work from home” and you’ll see why this is a disaster.

As a working mom myself, this issue hits home. I’ve worked from home for over 5 years now, for 2 different companies. I currently work for a company that’s based in a different state from where I live. It’s no big deal. My coworkers know I’m just a phone call, email, IM, Skype, or FaceTime away from them, and report that it’s not very different from me being in the office. From a work standpoint, I’m as productive as anyone else – if not more so. At home, I have a quiet environment in which to work, free from the distractions that come with an office.

I start my day when my kids leave for school at 7:30, and am usually done shortly after they get home at around 4pm. It’s a conscious move on my part to spend my most productive hours when no one is home to distract me from the task at hand. At the same time, I get many of the same benefits as stay-at-home moms – I’m here to see my kids off in the morning, and am here to greet them when they get home.

That’s not to say I never have calls or meetings when they’re here – I do. And that’s not to say I’m never in the office – I was there most of this week! But the flexibility is what counts.

I have to believe that Yahoo is going to lose good employees over this decision. After all, the digital space is uniquely suited to working from anywhere, any time. That’s the way work is these days – are we ever really not working? Why hamstring people by telling them they have to haul their butts into an office every day?

I’m thankful to work for an employer that embraces working from home.

As a working mom, Marissa Mayer should be ashamed of herself.

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  1. Great take Mel! I worked from home for several years also. I felt it worked well for me because I started work before 30 to 60 minutes our Portland office (time zone indifferent), typically had a couple of random distractions through out the day, worked 30-60 minutes more, then packed it in when I was done and separated myself from work. I did not have to spend as much time preparing a lunch to take and driving to and from work. These time savings were offset by some of those distractions, but more than not I funneled it back into work.

    All that being said, I view working at home to be more of a case-by-case scenario. While you are heads down people, others will be more likely to screw-off when left alone. Goals, production and expectations are definitely a must to have to make it work.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      I agree, James, that some people don’t do well working from home. I’ve heard several comments over the years when I tell people that I WFH along the lines of “Wow, I’d never get anything done!” For me, WFH gives me 8+ hours a day to focus exclusively on work – freeing me up for family time the rest of the day without the burden of a commute and workday distractions. For others, WFH is akin to a day off. 😉

      My issue with the Yahoo thing is they’ve taken away the choice for both workers and managers. Even those who were productive at home no longer have that option. That’s a fail.

      • >> My issue with the Yahoo thing is they’ve taken away the choice for both workers and managers. Even those who were productive at home no longer have that option. That’s a fail.

        Yep, big fail.

  2. Mel, I totally understand your perspective and I would bet my life that you get as much or more done working from home. You are driven and self-motivated. However, I believe you are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of employees can’t do what you do at the level you do it. Yahoo employs enough people that they can afford to lose the people that walk away. In fact, my guess is that they can’t afford to keep the people that walk away (they are planning on it). Google and Yahoo are artists at finding ways around having to announce a lay off. Google does it all the time by having tons of contract workers. You don’t layoff contract workers, you quit doing business with them.

    I worked from home for a while. I was bootstrapping Get Found First at the time. I was a young dad with a toddler and new born at home. I am super self-driven, and my wife did her best to keep the kids from distracting me, but I just was not able to focus like I could in an office. There is something psychological that happens when you shower, get dressed, and drive into an office. You shift gears.

    In my opinion, for Yahoo it was the right move. Making exceptions just for the ones that they think are the best does NOT work. Everyone else hates those guys and hates you for letting them be those guys. It’s an all or nothing deal.

    Good, thought provoking post!

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Hmm, I wonder how many of my coworkers hated me over the years? 🙂 You’re right about the mindset. You can’t stumble downstairs in your pajamas with a toddler on your hip and expect to get things done. I get up at 5:30am, shower, dress as if I were going to work (well, other than the running shoes I wear every day), and sit at a desk that’s only for work. I do not work in my pajamas unless I’m taking a sick day and catching up on email. I don’t work on the couch in front of the TV. And I don’t have young kids at home – I could not have done this when my kids were little. Nor could I work during the hours that my kids are home, even though they’re teenagers – it’s just too distracting. It’s hard even when my husband is here with the kids. So I totally get your point.

      I do believe that if your policy is that WFH is allowed at manager’s discretion, rather than on an exception basis, it works. If your manager feels that you are not making the grade, they have the option to require you to go to the office. If that’s the policy, I don’t see how people can get mad about it. Just as not everyone is cut out for every job, not everyone is cut out to work at home. But I don’t agree with penalizing everyone because of a few bad apples, and I find it hard to believe that this is just a convenient way to lay people off. It’s one fell swoop with an axe and some good people will get the chop, imho.

      Great discussion! Love hearing the different sides of it.

      • Mayer must feel that there are only a few good apples, and mostly bad or why would she make such a rash decision?

        Maybe because it takes some extreme steering wheel jerks to move that large of a ship.

        • Melissa Mackey says

          You may be right – that makes sense to me. Maybe they have a bunch of freeloaders hiding under the guise of working from home. And yeah, I’m sure neither you nor I can imagine what it takes to steer a ship like that!

  3. Somehow I knew you were going to write a post on this. 🙂 Couldn’t agree with you more Melissa. I’ve been doing this part-time in the office (10 hours a week), part-time at home (20+) for 7 years now. It works for me, my company, my clients, and most of all my family. I’m a happy, well-adjusted working mom, and proud of it. What a terrible decision by a lady I usually admire! Disappointed…

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Ha Lisa, once again we are on the same wavelength! 🙂 I’m disappointed too. You bring up a good point, though: when someone I admire makes what appears to be a crazy and boneheaded decision, there’s usually way more to the story than meets the eye. See my reply to Stu above – I hope that’s what’s going on here and that she’s not just trying to irk all the working moms like you and me.

  4. Mel:

    Great post. Been following this story with interest. As a person who has built a successful business working from home, it obviously works for me – in my 14th year now. In the process of finding my own balance now after all those years, with a 5 month old!

    While I don’t like to judge others’ choices, I do find the policy coming to Yahoo and the reaction to it interesting. Let’s be honest, there are just as many ways to be a poor performing employee when you are on site as when you are working from home! I think the discussion should be more about how to get the best out of your people. Mine work remotely and for Neptune Moon, it works great. Expectations are clear – do great work, be responsive and meet your deadlines. I would expect the same from someone sitting in the office next to me or working in their home office in Florida, Virginia or wherever!

    Not all jobs lend themselves to WFH, but it seems really shortsighted to not even consider that kind of arrangement for those that do. And, this is not just a women’s issue. I feel like it is easier to blow it off when it is characterized as an issue for working moms as part of the so-called “mommy wars”. It is bigger than that and impacts us all – as people and producers.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Very well said, Julie. When I worked in an office, we had people who showed up every day and were very poor performers – and everyone knew it. You’re right when you say that the expectation should be to do great work, respond in a timely manner, and meet deadlines – that goes for everyone!

      Absolutely agree that it’s not a woman’s issue, although it irks me that it was a woman who initiated it. I know plenty of men who successfully work from home. And it’s not a parents-only issue either. Work is a state of mind, not a building.

      • I totally hear you about being irked that it is a woman at the heart of this story. There is something about this whole scenario that is troublesome (or maybe disappointing is a better word?), that has been hard to put my finger on. I was talking with a colleague about this earlier this week and wondering how the aftermath to the announcement might have played out differently if the CEO were not a woman – it is hard to say, but interesting to ponder.

        I think the parts that I find most disheartening are – that it is still such a big deal to even have a female CEO of a company like Yahoo and also the idea that the choices she is making for Yahoo will very likely have an impact outside of Yahoo. Like it or not, ask for it or not, her decisions about WFH (and taking a 2 week maternity leave!) will be held up as examples or justifications for similar policies by other organizations. Probably with a little extra weight because she is a woman doing these things.

        Is it fair to put more than just her company’s fortunes on her? Probably not. But, it is also disingenuous to pretend that her actions won’t likely have a ripple effect. It reminds me a lot of the kerfuffle years ago when Charles Barkley famously complained that sports stars are not role models for kids and should not have to behave as such. Again, want it or not, being that high profile does come with some responsibility to think about your actions and the impact they might have on others due to your influence. Fair? Who knows, but it is reality.

        I guess I just hoped for more from a woman at the top of a tech company in particular.

        • Melissa Mackey says

          Great perspective. I too was chagrined when Mayer returned to work just 2 weeks after having a baby. Maybe she has the physical and financial strength to be able to pull that off, but for most women that’s just not a reality. I know I probably wouldn’t be here if I had only taken 2 weeks leave – I’d be dead from exhaustion! As you say, whether we like it or not, women like Mayer are in high-profile positions, and their actions do have repercussions. We all should be fighting for more flexibility, not less.

  5. Wow, even more great comments. I’d like to add another one about working in an close-knit environment where teams collaborate and share can often be a thought provoking and powerful way to build up the individuals. It’s difficult to share knowledge across different locations where sometimes small but insightful nuggets can passed around the water-cooler. I often miss my solitude, but always appreciate being able to shout at Paul K and get immediate feedback;)

    Good thing we have #ppcchat, Titter’s PPC water-cooler:)

    • Melissa Mackey says

      You’re right, James – when WFH you miss out on the in-person collaboration and nuggets. For me it’s an acceptable tradeoff, but there are times I miss it too.

  6. Joe Drury says

    Great article and discussion here. As a former Yahoo myself I was super excited when they took on Marissa. The company has suffered incompetent leadership for too long. Like many, i was encouraged by the prospect of a major company hiring a soon to be mother to run the ship. But this decision is disappointing. One of the better things about working at Yahoo was the flexibility given to parents that would need to occasionally wfh. I took advantage of this flexibility several times during my tenure there. Many of my former colleagues did as well. I see this as just a competitive barrier for them to get the brightest folks in the industry.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Totally 100% agree. I WFH not only for flexibility, but because I’m not in a position to relocate at this time in my life. I have turned down countless jobs because they wanted me to move and be in the office. If as a company you want to hire the best and brightest, don’t expect them to uproot their family and move cross country for you – a lot of them won’t do it. Forcing people into the office will force many good people elsewhere imho.

  7. OK. Just found this article titled “How Marissa Mayer Figured Out Work-At-Home Yahoos Were Slacking Off” and thought it worth the share. It is disappointing how this seems to be a case of a few bad apples ruining the bunch. Here is the important part:

    According to a source, the only way Mayer is comfortable making any decision: with the help of data.

    Like a lot of companies, Yahoo has something called a Virtual Private Network or VPN. Remote workers can use it to securely log into Yahoo’s network and do work.

    After spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo parking lots were, Mayer consulted Yahoo’s VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough.

    Mayer discovered they were not — and her decision was made.

  8. Is it written that Yahoo is obligated to allow employees to work at home? No. Are they allowed to make their own rules? Yes. If you don’t like it and you are an employee of Yahoo then leave. Obviously they have done a calculation and decided that it is best for their culture and company to force people to work in an office. If that means they lose current employees and the chance to hire others, so be it. I’m guessing they will see zero impact over the long term. Some people just need to get over it.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. I don’t work for Yahoo, so I don’t know if they had a written policy concerning working from home. And even if they did, you’re right that it’s their prerogative to change the policy and force people to come to the office. That said, it’s a step backward from a work/life balance perspective. People these days are looking for more flexibility, not less – and Yahoo just became less flexible. Furthermore, I suspect that at least some people accepted jobs at Yahoo with the understanding that they’d be able to work from home – and Yahoo just changed the game on them. Again, it’s Yahoo’s prerogative to do so, but it’s disruptive to those who now have to start looking for work because they need the option of working from home, which they had before but don’t now.

      All this said, see the link in James Svoboda’s comment above. Apparently there was rampant abuse of the WFH privilege at Yahoo, which prompted this decision. Assuming that’s true, I can understand the crack-down. It’s unfortunate all the way around.

  9. I’ve read quite a few articles about Yahoo revising their work from home policy, and (I’m sure I’m in the minority here) I just don’t get it. It’s a nice perk, but I’m not sure that it is the “right” people seem to think it is. I can appreciate the work from home mom scenario as well (I have two little guys at home), but Yahoo isn’t obligated to make that work for an employee. That being said, I hope Yahoo has a gradual transition plan in place to ensure that their telecommuters can either a) adapt or b) move on. It isn’t fair to offer this perk and then pull it out from under your employees without warning. If they can, both Yahoo and their employees will be just fine.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      I hear you, Cleofe. No company, Yahoo included, is obligated to offer WFH. But companies who change the game mid-stream need to understand the repercussions. I’m sure Marissa Mayer did understand them: some people will quit (and they’ll lose both good and bad employees IMHO), there will be public outcry, etc. I like your idea of a gradual transition plan. That makes a lot of sense and I hope Yahoo is doing that. I would hate to hear from an employer that “effective next week, all employees must report to the office full time.” People need time to make other arrangements – including finding other work if staying at Yahoo and going to the office every day isn’t an option.

      • Checked back in on the thread this morning and have a few additional thoughts after reading the comments.

        Melissa Mayer is obviously doing what she thinks is best for Yahoo… Will it be? Only time will tell. The larger issues are (a) what will the ripple effect of this policy be for other organizations, both large and small and (b) is this a direction we want to be moving in, as an economy, in a age where technology makes “working from anywhere” so easy?

        The more I think about, the more I settle on the feeling that to continue moving forward and be competitive in the world arena, we need to be thinking about more and better ways, not fewer, to engage talent in our endeavors. When we figure out how to do this, we all win.

        If the employees at Yahoo, who work from home or on site are not producing, just get rid of them. Seems like a lot of this PR flak could have been avoided if they just got rid of poor employees, period.

        A tangential issue that I think is related to this topic that hasn’t been discussed is the expectation that even employees who do work on site at many companies, are also expected to continue to work when at home – that is to be available, connected and responsive nearly 24 hours a day.

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