Ruckus Roundup: Marissa Mayer

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MarissaI’ve written here about Marissa Mayer before, when she took the helm at Yahoo. And now with a broad reversal of Yahoo’s telecommuting policies (communicated through the HR mouthpiece), Mayer has earned a spot again.

“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” reads the memo to employees from HR head Jackie Reses. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Soon after the announcement, several HR bloggers and recruitment analysts criticized the decision calling it a “morale killer” and “a boneheaded move.” Even veteran businessman Richard Branson, got in on the action, saying:

“…it was perplexing to see Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer tell employees who work remotely to relocate to company facilities. This seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.

If you provide the right technology to keep in touch, maintain regular communication and get the right balance between remote and office working, people will be motivated to work responsibly, quickly and with high quality.

Working life isn’t 9-5 any more. The world is connected. Companies that do not embrace this are missing a trick.

Even within our own industry, the decision was met with mostly criticism, backed up by recent infographics, studies and surveys that seem to indicate that working from home is a boon to productivity.

– A Stanford study, conveniently released on the same day as Yahoo’s memo, reported that call center employees increased their performance by 13 percent when working from home. They also reported “improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover,” according to the study.

– A University of Texas at Austin study from late last year found that those people who work from home “add five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office.”

– A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, also from last year, reported that working remotely “seems to boost productivity, decrease absenteeism” — that means missing work — “and increase retention.” It also gives employers more incentive to ask you to work on weekends, the authors say.

– According to some recent research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, bosses are roughly 9 percent more likely to consider you “dependable” and “responsible” if you “put in expected face time.”

And one recruiter on Facebook stated what many recruiters are thinking:

Recruiters far and wide think it is a great idea for Yahoo to suspend remote working. (More candidates in a very tight-tech market means more money in our pockets).

But there are some who quietly support the decision. It even extends to Yahoo! insiders, who state the the lack of productivity is a company issue, rather than a telecommuting issue. While working mothers and recent Yahoo! hires (for whom working from home was a sizable perk) vent their frustration at the double standard this imposes on parents struggling to balance work and home life (Mayer reportedly had a nursery built for her six-month old in her office), some grudgingly admit that this may be more about business and less about punitive and petty freedom grabbing.

“For what it’s worth, I support the no working form home rule. There’s a ton of abuse of that at Yahoo. Something specific to the company.”

The source also said Yahoo’s large remote workforce led to “people slacking off like crazy, not being available, and spending a lot of time on non-Yahoo! projects.”

As Wired’s Marcus Wholsen puts it:

As much as people love to hate on Yahoo for its many missteps, it’s hard to believe one of the planet’s most intensely scrutinized CEOs would enact such a policy just because she wants to lord over a campus full of cubicle drones.

“I think Marissa Mayer is way too smart for this to be the ultimate resolution of whatever challenge they’re facing,” says Tony Schwartz, the founder and CEO of The Energy Project, a consultancy to Fortune 100 companies that advocates for a more flexible workplace culture.

Even HR analysts are buzzing on various social networks about the possible reasons for Mayer’s perplexing decision. Laurie Ruettimann writes that it may be a smart way to consolidate power.  Others speculate it’s a layoff disguised as a policy change to get rid of surplus workers. Insiders at Yahoo hope it will separate the truly productive from those who have been riding the gravy train of a mismanaged tech behemoth. Mayer didn’t create the culture at Yahoo! but she’s inherited it, along with all of the dysfunctions that go with that says Uberflip founder who does not allow his employees to work from home.

Still, no matter her reasons, other CEOs flatly disagree with her. Says Gary Swart, the CEO of Odesk:

It has never been easier to work with people across different time zones, schedules or work environments—which explains why approximately 30 million Americans currently work from home at least one day a week, according to the Telework Research Network, and why regular telecommuters will number 4.9 million by 2016, representing a 69% increase from today’s level.

Work is not one-size-fits-all—and forcing it to be may put your company on the road to extinction.

Read more in Telecommuting

Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Hogan speaks and writes on all career and workforce related subjects. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and SMBs around the globe. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency that serves clients in the U.K., Africa, China, Israel, Europe and North America. Primarily focused on the Human Resources and Global Workforce vendors, Red Branch Media handles clients of all shapes and sizes.
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