The Real Reasons No One At Yahoo Will Be Working From Home

A Yahoo internal memo this week said "it is critical that we are all present in our offices." The backlash was swift and furious--but the move was likely less about improving workplace communication and more about creating attrition.

We've reported that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer wants to focus on becoming a daily habit for users. According to a leaked memo this week, she's shifting the habits of employees, too--starting in June, nobody's working from home.

As posted on AllThingsDigital, HR head Jackie Reses notes that the ultimatum is part of the Web 1.0 company's becoming "the absolute best place to work." Citing a "spirit of collaboration," being present in the office will no longer be optional:

Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

A close reading

That insights can arise from happy accidents is part of the "engineering serendipity" ethos present in Zappos and Apple--though progessively that's part of an extended "palette of place" where workers can choose to work from home, office, or a cafe or coworking space. The memo portends something much more strict: all employees with work-from-home arrangements are being asked to work in Yahoo offices.

"Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job," the memo reads, "it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices."

Though prompting public outcry, the move shows Mayer's subtle torquing of Yahoo's structure: a source tells Business Insider that the company has remote workers across divisions who never came in and "weren't productive," including people that "hid" to the extent that no one knew they were still working there. As well, since some remote workers won't want to come into the office, they'll quit--a bonus for a company that wants to slim down, a talent move parallel to Mayer's call to condense 60 apps to 12.

Mayer has said before that the company's success will hinge on "fast, nimble, small" teams. By the looks of the memo, those teams will be working shoulder to shoulder.

[Image: Flickr user Eden Politte]

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32 Comments

  • someplace4

    This decision telegraphs the quality of talent Mayer believes she has at Yahoo.  Since Yahoo has been struggling for so long, a lot of self-motivated top talent went elsewhere.  If you are working an unmotivated B-team, you probably need them in the office just to ensure they'll do the work.  The rest of us (especially managers who could lose good quality remote workers by following Mayer's lead) should be cautious about generalizing that all workplaces should be/are moving to in-the-office or people can/can't work at home effectively.  Mayer's is a strategy when you've lost self-starters and productivity has reached a tipping point.

  • Stephsabo19

     I hope they do something to get their gear in check, I am completely dissatisfied with Yahoo! mail. They had better use that collaboration time to fix their numerous problems. Instead of focusing on "becoming a daily habit for users" they should focus on getting their email fixed.

  • Bruce Bensetler

    I find the comments somewhat absurd since they seem to be focused on analysis of a hypothesis derived from people seeking the "real" reason for the change in company policy. Once again our media-influenced analysis process has been reduced to looking for the "one true answer" or something that can be cleverly packaged in 140 characters. Most business decisions, especially major ones are made based on multiple and sometimes competing reasons. I think only someone who is part of the Yahoo management team is privy to all of the factors considered or germane. I think, however, there is a reasonable debate to be had concerning the pros and cons of remote workers, perhaps even expanding into the realm of how to measure for whom it is working and for whom it is not based on some fair criteria. More work, but also more useful than bashing a decision on which we can only speculate.  

  • Delia O'Riordan

    Well said, Chris. And what of the burden of Yahoo's physical infrastructure? Office space, equipment, energy use,  travel costs, even parking will all be affected if all employees are required "on-site".  If this is an experiment to see how many will quit, why not say so? Show up or leave. At least that would be honest. "Creative conversations" are part of the corporate myth. The same sort of collisions between problems and solutions can happen in virtual reality spaces like SKYPE. Yahoo seems to be going retro in an industry that must be future-oriented. 

  • Todd

    My guess is that some people have enough self discipline to work at home, but from what I have seen with many younger workers is that hard work, career paths and loyalty to their companies is not their focus. I like the argument that it is the responsibility of the company to create an environment for workers to WANT to be at work everyday. What I like most about Mayer is doing is that it will not take long to see if Yahoo starts to be an industry leader or not!

  • Howard Tikka

    I have been working remotely for the past 15 years. I am far more productive here than when I am in the office. When I am in the office, my time is spent mostly in meetings and catching up with people. I find I have very little time to focus and actually get work done. 

    To work at home successfully, you have to have a bit of self-discipline and there are certainly some days, where you have to forcibly focus yourself to concentrate on work. I miss greatly the daily interaction of being in the office environment and the collaboration that it brings, but the trade off for the time I am available for my family, rather than commuting or being stuck in the office until well after dinner has been a blessing. 

    I honestly feel the best of both worlds need to be established for telecommuters. And I think Yahoo! would be much better served by keeping their remote workers, but requiring them (local workers) to work a day a week or so in the office to keep that face-to-face interaction with team members. As much as I don't enjoy meetings, it does help to keep everyone on track and feeling connected to a part of a larger team.

  • PhilConnell

    A yet more sophisticated leader knows that there seldom are clearly unproductive people. Small, self organizing work/think groups bubbling throughout the day keep the day- and the company -going. Phil Connell

  • Ryan

    She's doing the right thing.   Out of office team members are hard on the team.  Works great for the person who gets to work in his or her jammies, but more often than not the others that depend on that individual have to compensate.  And to those who say they have too many workplace distractions, I say learn some focus.  You don't have to spend those extra minutes socializing at the coffee bar... 

  • alizardx

    This is consistent with a company whose innovation level is at the point where still using yahoo is a pretty good sign one really hasn't entered the 21st Century yet. 

    The ego needs of a management team that wants to see people in cubicles droning away and the lack of management skill that requires hands-on supervision are bad for company profits.

    The most amazing thing about Yahoo is that they haven't hit Chapter 11. Yet.

  • Laura Fischer

    As someone who is currently trying out an in office position after three years of working from home, it seems there is more to wade through, my entire day is less efficient by including commuting and office distractions... but then I am an introvert. 

  • Niqui Eastman

    You may enjoy Quiet: The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain), which supports that the better (creative, innovative) thinkers serve the workplace better when they work from home or have an office door and are actually hindered by the day to day goings on of cubicle living.

  • xian

    How could nobody know they were still working there? They must report to someone, right? In that case, I'd fire the manager who is paying for a head without knowing why.

  • tina kadish

    Companies do not typically allow working from home - that's why community commerce is the best alternative for some individuals.  There are many successful people who work from home and are making alot of $.  Companies pidgeon hole you in a box and decide what you are worth, and no flexibility in hrs/$.

  • Kelly

    As the owner of a creative agency and having had employees work both remotely and "in- person", I can tell you first hand that having the team IN the office (in person) is the most efficient, effective and creativity encouraging atmosphere there is. 

    Creativity happens fast, ideas are tweaked in the blink of an eye, many times by a comment from random office bystanders; revisions and client input happens at unscheduled times. To be fluidly creative you've got to be present! 

  • garethkane

    Presenteeism in a tech company? So much for creativity, quality of life, flexibility...

  • Chris Reich

    This shows a lack of leadership skill. If you have unproductive people, fix it by working with or dismissing those people. The style of saying you are doing something for one reason when really there is a 'hidden' agenda is poisonous to the workplace. Employees will question the motives of every decision henceforth.

    This also show a serious lack of business understanding. So-called "Happy Accidents" happen at happy places. When a business is successful people enjoy talking about work. New thought is constantly bubbling up. When a business is in as deep a ditch as Yahoo, most conversations are gripe sessions. She's lit the gripe fire with this move.

    Where are her great new initiatives? So far, not so good. Launch a new website? Really? Don't expect a bunch of disgruntled employees to supply the next generation of ideas.

    She's right, they will leave. But the duds are the last to go voluntarily.

  • Chris Kelly

    They may as well say 'we want your life and ideally your soul'. The only way they could get away with removing this type of flexibility is if it was quite literally the best office in the world. From their output, from the 130 links bursting from their homepage (with the wonderful URL 'http://uk.yahoo.com/?p=us&... I'm guessing it isn't. People share ideas when they are happy and relaxed. If people cant sometimes stay at home to work every so often when a child is ill, or the new kitchen is going to be delivered 'between 10am-8pm', I can guarantee that they will be thinking about these things at the water cooler and not sharing their idea for reducing the amount of clutter on the Yahoo homepage.