Why Marissa Mayer is wrong about remote working

by Dallon Christensen

In last week’s post, I highlighted three reasons why Marissa Meyer’s decision to ban full-time telecommuting was a proper decision for Yahoo’s future. This week, I will focus on why this decision was wrong. The lesson of this situation is to understand the key issues facing a critical decision affecting many employees and how your business can learn from this situation to grow and thrive.

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What Marissa Mayer did wrong

  1. Mayer is absolutely wrong that face-to-face interaction is the only way to make innovation work – Over the last eight months, I have participated in dozens of Go to Meeting video conferences, Skype phone calls, and Google Hangouts. While these conferences may not completely replace the physical aspect of face to face meetings, they provide a suitable replacement to allow people around the world to interact. 37 Signals, a popular web-based application company, has nearly half of its workforce working remotely. In a recent interview on the 5by5 Quit podcast (warning – some strong language), company co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson emphasized his company’s collaborative culture with employees working around the globe. Today’s technology allows people to interact and share ideas well enough to not require direct, face-to-face interaction.
  2. Mayer’s “all or nothing” decision is perceived as out-of-touch and condescending – When you are a company leader, your actions are as important as your words. Mayer recently had a baby, and she brings the child to Yahoo with a caregiver. Meanwhile, the other Yahoo employees have no daycare options on site or the ability to do the same thing Mayer is doing. I have no problems with what Marissa Mayer is personally doing. However, her decision to ban remote working while bringing her child to work with a caregiver is easily perceived as hypocritical. Yahoo employees rightly should ask why does the CEO get this privilege while other employees do not. This is not a way to bolster morale with a team that is already stressed and nervous about the company’s future.
  3. Mayer refuses to acknowledge that some work actually requires focused activity – Like many of you, I have faced the distractions of today’s cubicle/office environment. The “Dilbert” comic strip is not that inaccurate. There are times when working in an open office or cubicle enviornment is counter-productive. People do need the ability to escape the office to complete work requiring focus and concentration.

The issues of telecommunting and work-life flexibility will not go away. Our society wears too many hats to neatly segregate life into various buckets. Marissa Mayer has started an important and healthy debate in our workplace. She just needs to execute the idea more effectively.

What are your thoughts on the telecommuting/remote work controversy? Share your comments below!

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