Working from Home (Not!)

What is it that Yahoo! is up to?


Last Friday, an internal company memo was leaked to the press, and since then the interwebs have been furiously debating the (de)merits of Marissa Mayer’s decision to tell all her employees (known as “Yahoos” -- I love that!) that as of June 1 working from home is no longer an option.

I know you all have been waiting breathlessly to learn what I think of the move, and to be honest, I can’t fully make up my mind.

Initially, I was struck dumb by the delicious irony of a Silicon Valley high tech giant doing something that appears so retrograde. 

However, there are few who know Yahoo! who don’t think some kind of a shake-up is necessary to wrest the company from its extended doldrums. We educated observers, from our privileged position, can argue over whether this was the right shake-up at the right time. And are we ever.

“Begin as you mean to end,” my wife tells me all the time. This bit of homespun wisdom has embedded in it the thing about Mayer’s edict that is giving me fits. Does she really mean to chain people to desks and cubicles as the way forward? And if she doesn’t, why is she doing something now she knows she’ll wind up undoing later?

Maybe that’s not her point. Regardless, what we all can agree on is the shock value of the new policy. From that perspective, the announcement is an unqualified success.

Sometime in the very near future I can imagine Mayer saying to her 11,500 employees -- at least the ones who show up back at the office -- something like, “Now that I have your attention, here’s what comes next...” And it’s that “what comes next” part that will determine success or failure.


Is this the beginning of the end for working remotely? I can’t imagine that to be the case. I understand and have frequently benefitted from the connectedness that is now possible in our virtual world. I marvel at the facility with which I can instantaneously link myself to almost any other human being in any part of the planet, and how easy it is to learn about anything I can imagine.

And yet. 

My own work presents me with a dilemma. There, I thrive on the essential power of “physically being together,” to borrow one of the several tortured expressions from the newly-famous Yahoo! document. Interaction is more robust in a face to face setting. So much of the breakthrough progress I see with my clients comes as a direct result of being in the same room together, breathing the same air, being in contact with each other.

And so I’m split.

What I find so disappointing about the whole thing is the apparent lack of imagination. If the idea is to remake the culture, wasn’t there a similarly bold shock that could have been sent to the system, one that would have signaled a confident, positive step into the future? You can probably guess that I see this as neither confident nor positive.

Could Mayer have done it differently? I think so, but don’t have any good ideas yet. I’m going to sit with it for a while and see what I come up with. What about you? What have you got?