Reactions to Yahoo!’s No Telecommuting in the Work Place Policy

Last week Marissa Mayer, the relatively new CEO of Yahoo!, and apparent Super Mom to her newborn, made a big change for the staff. No more working remotely, a.k.a. telecommuting or what many of us know as working from home. The internet buzzed over this new development and many parents chimed in with their disapproval citing what a step back this is for working parents, especially mothers, all over the world.

The Memo stated:

“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” says the memo from the human resources department, and reprinted by Kara Swisher on “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

As a mother who works from home, I cannot imagine what a blow this must have been to so many who work for the company. In a quest to see what other bloggers were saying, I sat down with the help of some of our writers to put together a list of their favorite post across the internet expressing their feelings about Ms. Mayer’s new employment rule.

Maria Guido at Mommyish takes the time to provide research about working from home, citing a Stanford survey that shows an increase of productivity by 13% when the employee in question is telecommuting:

Reporting to the office from nine to five, five days a week worked great when there was always someone taking care of things at home. That person would most likely be the wife and mother. Times have changed and working parents – men and women alike – can enjoy the flexibility that telecommuting brings while taking care of their responsibilities at home.

Annie at PhD in Parenting wrote a post called Marissa Mater and Sheryl Sandberg: When Executive Women Keep Other Women Down, which is not only insightful, it showcases the truth of a larger problem in our country. She discusses the gender gap in the work place, which these two women continue to promote with their actions:

No one asks men about their family plans. It is assumed that whether he has children or not, he’ll continue to be available as needed and be 100% focused on his job and his career. The assumption that only women would need to take time off, not be able to travel for work, and have to balance children’s day care and doctor’s appointments with work commitments, is discriminatory.

Jodi Grundig from Mom’s Favorite Stuff opens up about her experience with a miscarriage, bedrest during pregnancy, and a premature baby showcasing why she is disappointed with Marissa Mayer’s new anti-parent telecommuting rules:

Working from home CAN work, if you set appropriate boundaries.  I was probably even more effective from home because there was no water cooler, no coffee breaks across the street to Starbucks.  It helped me keep my career for three additional years, and allowed my employer to retain a long-time employee.

Jezebel took on the topic as well, describing Mayer as notoriously gender blind.

Numerous sources told Swisher that the mandate doesn’t just extend to employees who were working from home full-time; it applies to staffers who had arrangements to work from home just one or two days a week, too. Many of the people who wrote to her were pissed off  “because they felt they were initially hired with the assumption that they could work more flexibly.”

Jennifer Owens at the Huffington Post wrote Marissa Mayer’s No-Flex Policy Old School for Young Mom CEO describing her telecommuting ban:

Alas, no. Instead, her plan as announced last week is to lead her workforce back to the last century by banning work-from-home policies across the company.

Our lovely Joanne Bamberger wrote Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer: “Lean In” and Get your Butt to the Office on her website PunditMom:

Whether it’s fair or not, I expect more of high-powered women leaders who also happen to be mothers when it comes to understanding what’s realistic for most women in the workforce — especially when the online community of women has rallied around them in the past, as happened when Mayer announced shortly after becoming Yahoo!’s CEO, that she was pregnant and would only be taking a couple of weeks off for maternity leave.

Then I was able to find two opinions on the flip side of the debate. I am not sure if it is a coincidence, or if this shows the extreme gender gap in the work force, but the only commentary I could find supporting Mayer’s choice was written by men. Maybe because they often have less responsibilities when it comes to raising children in our society?

Andrew Nusca from ZDNet shared a post called Marissa Mayer, I Hear You, supporting her choice, and basically agreeing with her:

By my best estimation, Marissa Mayer is trying to infuse her new company with much of the same attitude that her previous employer, Google, is famous for. After years of unsuccessful incremental change, Yahoo surely needs it.

Lastly, Steve Kandell at BuzzFeed wrote No, Marissa Mayer Doesn’t Hate Your Children, in typical Buzzfeed style:

What [Huffington Post’s Lisa] Belkin calls “a blending of life and work” cannot help but read as “a gig so easy, you can do other shit and still get paid!” Calling Mayer’s decision a regression to the culture of 40 years ago isn’t merely a gross generalization, it negates the possibility that modern workplaces — the good ones, anyway — are indeed often optimized to the needs of a particular company and its employees and are not cookie-cutter industrial-park cubicle farms.

How do YOU feel about changes at Yahoo?

Image via Flickr/Niall Kennedy/CC license

  • meg

    How unfortunate. As a mom who works (very hard) from home, this is extremely disappointing. I would say that I am at least 150% more effective and efficient at home without the distraction of other people around me, and it allows me to spend an additional 1.5 hours per day at home with my child instead of commuting to and from my office (not to mention the $200/month on gas). I am also able to be home to feed him breakfast and a snack when my husband brings him home from school at 5. It also allows for flexibility for me to work after my son goes to bed if I have things I need to finish up for the day. If I was required to be in the office from 8-5, I would not be so willing to be flexible with my time at home. Melissa Mayer is a poor example of how a CEO should value their employees’ families.

    • meg

      I meant Marissa Mayer.

  • Babette

    I find Marissa Meyer’s decision appallingly archaic and insensitive. If I was an employee at Yahoo I would be actively searching for an employer rooted in the 21st century.

    I’m not sure what Meyer feels would be accomplished with such a ridiculous mandate. Not only does working remotely allow flexibility for employees it is cost-efficient for companies to use it. In addition it allows globally located employees to stay with a company longer-term. If she doesn’t feel telecommuting works, why has it been so consistently successful across a wide variety of businesses?

    Anyone with a sensible work ethic can instantly learn to work remotely, often more efficiently than one would at an office. Without the hassle of driving, dressing for work, etc, employees are calmer and more productive. In my own case, having worked remotely for 99% of the last 18 years I can state emphatically that this has helped my productivity and ability to work more flexibly. I’ve worked for companies that aren’t even in my state, much less my city. In addition I avoid the ‘cooler’ conversations that can dig into a work day, plus I end up working more off-hours than I would if I was physically tied to an office.

    The positives of remote work have been proven so often and so thoroughly, I can’t imagine what compels someone in this day and age to make such an unfortunate decision, one that will negatively impact many employees. As surmised elsewhere, I’m sure a good percentage of those employees expected a flexible work situation when they signed on to Yahoo, and now it is being unceremoniously ripped out from under them. What a huge insult to the collective employee intelligence at Yahoo.

    • Babette

      Self-correction: Mayer not Meyer.

  • I think this is the right thing to do. She was hired to turn around a failing business, and that is what she is doing. Yahoo! is a business, not a day care. My expanded thoughts on my own blog:

    • Babette

      Kristen: I’m not following you. What does working remotely have to do with daycare?

      My daughter is long grown and out of the house. I work remotely because it allows me to be more flexible which in turn makes me a more productive worker. It’s better for the planet, more cost-effective for my employers and as mentioned, more flexible for me. If people were required to be face-to-face to be successful there are a lot of remotely based companies that wouldn’t have succeeded.

      • Obviously telecommuting isn’t working for Yahoo!:–or-quit-2013-2

        The rationale is that the large bulk of Yahoo’s business that *is* remote isn’t productive. Most of the detractors are screaming about work/life balance and disenfranchising working parents (that I have seen).

        This may be a temporary move; it seems to be part of “cleaning house” and giving employees the chance to make the decision for themselves.

        I talk to at least 2-3 candidates a month that have been working from home for some significant amount of time and want to return to an office where they can collaborate, where there is synergy, and where they feel like a member of a cohesive team. Some professions do lend themselves to a telecommunication modality (like writing). It is knowing which do/not that is the key.

  • Dawn

    For me, telecommuting was a big pain when I did it even a little, and impossible for most of my duties. However, I have seen a big benefit to me when my husband and aunt have been able to do it. When my husband hurt his back, the choices were work from home or take several weeks off. But perhaps Marissa feels confident that there are no key employees whose unscheduled absence for a few weeks would cause a major disruption to the company.

    At the same time, I understand some people take advantage of telecommuting to do little or no work (of course, they can do the same thing *in* the office, but perhaps then it’s more obvious), and working from home can take you “out of the loop”–depriving fellow employees of your input at informal hallway meetings and vice-versa. Plus, there’s a certain camaraderie that develops from working together. Perhaps, Marissa wants everyone to feel like they’re friends so they’re more invested in the company. So, I agree that working at the office is better, when you can.

    So, I guess I can understand why she would instate such a policy, without thinking about how it might affect Moms who can’t afford a nanny and employees with long illnesses or significant injuries. She may decide to change her mind and allow temporary telecommuting, but not permanent working from home.

  • Monica

    I agree with the thoughts of the others and want to add that I wonder if this change would allow people to terminate their employment due to breach of contract.

    • Monica, California is an At Will Employment state, so there is no “breach of contract”, and since they have a timeline (until the June) to make the transition, telecommuting employees wouldn’t really have any basis for a breach of contract.

  • Jenn

    I agree with her decision. Like someone else said, she was put in charge to turn around a FAILING business. It’s obvious that the way Yahoo! is being ran now just isn’t working at all.
    I did want to comment on something else you said:

    “I am not sure if it is a coincidence, or if this shows the extreme gender gap in the work force, but the only commentary I could find supporting Mayer’s choice was written by men. Maybe because they often have less responsibilities when it comes to raising children in our society?”

    IMO the ONLY reason men have less responsibilites than women when it comes to raising kids/running a home is because of women and society as a whole. So many women WON’T let the man take on more responsibility because they think the man isn’t doing it right, it’s not good enough, etc. Women are their own worst enemies when it comes to this. Most men would LOVE to beable to be more hands on IMO but because women think it (It meaning anything from cleaning house to bathing kids to cooking them dinner to dressing the kids) has to be done a certain way, they bitch and nag that it’s not done “right” so they re-do it and insult the man trying to help and he then in turns thinks ” Why the hell am I doing this if all she’s going to do is bitch about it and then re-do it” Women NEED to learn to let go of that control if they want more help around the house/with the kids!

    My husband helps around the house probably more than a lot of husbands do. He works full time outside the home, yet he still comes home and helps with chores in the house, plus the chores he does outside. He cooks, does laundry, vacuums, mops, etc. Everything *I* do, he does as well and even when it’s not up to my standard I keep my mouth shut and leave it be because I’m grateful for the help!

    If women want more help around the house and want their men to take on more responsibility with the kids then stop being your own worst enemy and LET THEM! Who gives a crap if on a saturday Sally or Susie or Billy or Bobby don’t match, who cares if the floor didn’t get vacuumed or the kitchen didn’t get swept as well as when you do it and so on and so on ya know? Ladies, seriously, if your husband/boyfriend/SO wants to give the kids a bath/do laundry/make dinner, etc then let him and STHU about it not being done right and enjoy that down time you now have to do what you want!!!!

    • Babette

      Wow. Talk about being your own worst enemy. What a self-gender-depracating agenda you have Jenn!

      Your condescending diatribe has absolutely nothing to do with telecommuting. Why are you commenting on this subject as though telecommuting is something only working mothers do, and therefore something negative? It’s ridiculous, and it does everyone a disservice (not only women).

      I read one comment in this thread that declared that telecommuting “isn’t daycare”, and now Jenn announced that “Women need to let men help them around the house! It’s all they want to do, so for the love of God, let them help you around the house so telecommuting can go away!” This is ludicrous.

      Although I’m female I did not telecommute until my daughter was out of school. No one could accuse me of working remotely to avoid daycare, although if I had the optionthat when she was younger, I don’t see how that would be a negative for my company. Working remotely is partially about allowing more work-life balance, which is supposed to be a positive! Making our lives more manageable while still giving our all to a company is a good thing, remember?

      I know dozens of men who work remotely. Guess what? A couple of them have custody of their kids and also enjoy the fact that they’re able to be home when the kids come home from school. So are they also wrong, or is it just those selfish, nagging women? Let’s get back to the flexibility this option offers so many PEOPLE who prefer it, and get out of the scolding, gender-specific tendency please.

      Every study I’ve read and every experience I’ve had is that companies like telecommuting as much as the employees. It saves them real estate dollars and gives them happier employees. I can’t find how being stuffed into a building is better for anyone. True, there are some positions that demand it – service roles and the like. My job role certainly doesn’t and I can think of a host of others that don’t either.

      If companies can trust employees to do the job, telecommuting is a great option. How did Mayer figure that it would help her company save money? I haven’t seen that explained yet.

    • Kate

      I understand where you are coming from, Jenn. This does happen often. And I get that you aren’t saying this is anything to do with telecommuting. You just found an opportunity to mention this and took it. Fine. Women have always been our own worst enemy. When we want something we find a way to get it. But we internalize the idea that we have to be perfect to be good enough. And so letting our husbands help us can be stressful. The topic is a bit off-topic, but it was interesting to read your point of view on the subject.

      In many ways, I feel like this article’s rantings about what Ms. Mayer has done is self-inflicted sexism. And I also cringed when I read “Maybe because they often have less responsibilities when it comes to raising children in our society?” Meaning men, of course. This is an old-fashioned idea that is being dragged out of the shadows to make a point. It should be left to die in a corner. After all, aren’t men also losing the ability to work at home?

      Saying this new policy is traitorous to her sex seems a little much for me, though I am a feminist. And proud to say I am. One way for women to get beyond gender bias is to insist on being treated equally at home and at work. I do think Ms. Mayer’s policy might come back to bite her if SOME flexibility is required. But I’m sure she is capable of making these decisions for her company if necessary. Blasting women in power for not catering to all of our wants and needs is also traitorous, in my humble opinion. Women should marry men who want to help out at home, and then let them help. And at work, stop complaining that women should have more lea-way than men because we are mothers, too. If this policy isn’t working for her company, then the company has to change. When the company fails, everyone is out of a job. If it is something you need in your life, I hope you are able to either ride it out or find a new job that better suits your life. No one has ever promised that life is in any way fair or easy.

      • Jenn

        Thanks Kate! I appreciate you reading what I said and not just jumping down my throat and being rude.

  • Cheryl

    I agree with what she’s doing. I work from home now and I’ve worked in offices. I was more focused and got more done AT an office. The distractions of a house and kids are not conducive to getting work done. Your employer isn’t required to offer you work-life balance but a company must be successful to continue. if you don’t like the arrangement seek other employment. I have my own business and I can work as much, or as little, as I want to. I’ve come to realize that working from home will limit the amount I can work and if I’m to change that I’ll need to rent an office.

  • Jenn

    Ummm Babette? Perhaps you missed where I said that I wanted to comment on something ELSE that Danielle had written in her post.
    So no shit my post had nothing to do with telecommunicating LOLOL Boy you catch on quick don’t you?

    • I would like to remind ALL commenters here to be respectful, and refrain from insulting other commenters.

    • Babette

      Ummmm Jenn, no I didn’t miss it. I simply commented on it. Too bad you missed all of the valid points I made and chose to dwell on yourself.

      Back to the point, which I’d much rather discuss than this tripe: I read the article where Mayer explained why she decided the telecommuters had to go. Apparently she felt they weren’t productive and were using telecommuting to ‘hide’ from their employment. That sounds more to me like a management issue. After all, no matter where you work, you should have deliverables that hold you accountable for your time and efforts. If that many people aren’t doing their job Yahoo has a lot more work ahead of them than just herding people into an office.

      In addition, it seems that telling employees they could take the option of quitting allows Yahoo to avoid a layoff, which may have been imminent otherwise. Strange tactic if that’s true, but I can see where it would work out well for their bottom line.

  • Sara

    I think the point that is being missed here, both in the policy and the reactions to it on both sides, is that not everyone is the same and not everyone works well in the same environment. I know myself well enough to know that I am more productive in an office (when I was in the workforce). My husband, however, is MUCH more productive when he works at home. He works at a start-up here in silicon valley, doing lots of technical research and development for his company’s product. So probably more similar to Yahoo employees than the example of “writing” as a profession that may be better to work from home. When he’s in the office, he has people stopping by his desk every few minutes with a question or an “emergency” they need his help with. (No one, not even the CEO, has an office in his company, it’s all an open workspace), so there’s no way for him to shut out these distractions. When he works at home, he is able to concentrate on his actually work much better. He also gets longer days in when he works from home. Instead of leaving for work around 7:30-8, then leaving to come home at 5-5:30, he starts his workday at 7:30 and ends it at 6, while still getting the same amount of family time. So working from home means longer, more productive days than working in an office. The online chat tool and conference calling makes it easy for him to participate in meetings and collaborate with team members, even from home. I don’t think it is necessary to be face to face every day for a team to work well together.

    No one is saying that everyone must telecommute. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. But it seems that you are actually getting less bang for you buck from some employees by banning it outright. I imagine that this will also lead to a period of high-turnover, as many places in Silicon Valley are hiring, and not only offer, but encourage, at least part time telecommuting. And this move is bad PR from Yahoo, which could make it difficult to hire new people that are as qualified as the ones who will leave for a better work environment for them. Not to mention the costs involved in replacing talent. A job search can be costly for a company as well.

    But, I’m not a CEO. Maybe this will work well for Yahoo. Maybe the benefit that will come from this will outweigh the negatives. Only time will tell. But, I do know that if my husband were at Yahoo now, he’d be on the job search. And I’m sure he wouldn’t be the only one. And if I were looking to re-enter the workforce, I wouldn’t even consider working at Yahoo.

  • CommonSense

    Yahoo is failing because their web products suck.

    gmail > yahoo mail
    google > yahoo search
    google+/facebook > ????

    bottom line is that Yahoo sucks because Yahoo sucks, doesn’t have anything to do with telecommuting

  • From my perspective, I get 10x more accomplished in the office then working from home. When I’m home, I tend to relax and goof off to much. I’m sure most telecommuters have a lot more discipline then I do… but I can understand where Mayer is coming from if she truly believes that a majority of Yahoo! Telecommutes are slackers.

    On the flip side, when my wife works from home, she is more productive and works longer hours / overtime.

    I agree with previous posters who argue different circumstances depending on the worker. This is where team managers should be earning some of their paycheck: being able to distinguish who is productive and who is not when telecommuting.

    Mayer was hired to turn Yahoo! around. But making a sweeping generalization, disenfranchising productive workers, and generally coming off as a rich and out of touch insensitive employer will backfire on her. As someone else said before me… Yahoo! sucks because their products are fail. And dismantling their telecommute workforce is NOT going to improve their products, it’s going to drive talented (and prospective) employees away.

    Yahoos real problem is they no longer have any brand visibility except as the butt of jokes. They are known more for their awful Yahoo Browser Toolbar that most people associate with malware then any type of useful service. Add to that they have no recognized Cloud service; no real media streaming services (movies or music); no strong presence in the mobile space (phone, O/S, apps, anything); their web hosting services have about zero advertising budget and definitely play second fiddle to GoDaddy and many others; the problems go on and on.

    Perhaps they do need to clean house. But flat out eliminating telecommuting just seems like desperation.

    • Babette

      Great points from Aaron, and thanks for the report Wendy. I’ve seen similar validations of working from home as opposed to an office, which is why I was puzzled why Mayer really thought this was a positive change for Yahoo.

      I agree that there is a percentage of people who aren’t able to work from home due to self-discipline issues. Obviously an onsite job is better for them. As I mentioned earlier and Aaron confirmed, there is a real management issue when a giant group of telecommuters ‘isn’t performing up to standard’.

      I would suspect faulty reporting too. Was that really the case that most/all of Yahoo’s telecommuters weren’t performing well, or was this an attempt to solve a problem with one sweeping gesture? It does seem that Mayer is desperate. It’s too bad that Yahoo doesn’t put a grand effort like this into just improving their products.

  • I have worked in a telecommute role before. I spent a significant amount of my time trying to “collaborate” with my team members in different time zones. Often I needed feedback from them before being able to proceed, or they had a piece of critical data that I needed to complete my own work. We had laptops and phones, but that doesn’t matter when you only have 4 overlapping hours or fewer.

    Just because a remote work force costs more, that doesn’t mean it is in the best interest of the company. There is ample evidence to show that face to face collaboration sparks more long-term innovation than people sitting thousands of miles apart.

    I certainly think that in today’s world there should be flexibility for specific situations (ie someone needs to be at the house from 10-2 to let the plumber in) and work hours (8-5 is NOT the norm in the tech culture, especially in Seattle and Silicon Valley; in Seattle, we generally consider “core” business hours to be 10-4).

    Considering how many of the SVC and tech companies that have an in-office policy are leading the way in “best places to work”, branding/brand recognition and profit, I think this is going to continue to be a trend. This is about what is right for the business. If it doesn’t work for a specific person, then obviously it is time for the individual in question to find a new job.

  • I fully support Ms. Mayer’s decision and glad to see her stand up to the FEMINAZIS.

    Where does it stop? Equal pay for equal work? Removal of the glass ceiling? Stop all the fun sexism in the office?

    It’s not like this is some high-tech global company we’re talking about. I mean if these people were using computers to do their work, they could be productive anywhere, right.

    I look forward to Ms. Myers’ next steps of installing rotary phones, analogue modems, punch clocks, and scheduled bathroom breaks. I do so love the 1950’s!

  • Babette

    Here’s an article that neatly sums up why Mayer made such a bad decision:

    The author’s reasons for initially working from home made me laugh, but I don’t think they’re accurate for all of us. When I started working from home in 1994, I jumped at the chance to avoid sitting in traffic for hours from the city to the suburbs. It worked so well I haven’t looked back since. I’ve worked for several companies who aren’t located near me anyway, which I probably would never have done if they hadn’t offered remote work.

    There are so many valid reasons for allowing telecommuting / remote workers.Difficult to believe Mayer didn’t consider them before she implemented her sure-to-backfire rule.

  • I don’t understand why it has to be an either / or proposition. While I understand and agree with all of the positives of telecommuting — both from a productivity standpoint and from a lifestyle/family standpoint — I also see the value of on-site work for collaboration, focus and expedient communication. (As a freelance copywriter, I actually do a combination of both in my work, and understand and experience the pros and cons of both arrangements.)

    As an outsider, of course, I have no idea what the work culture of Yahoo is. But I wonder if Mayer could have have instituted a “3 days (or a certain number of hours) per week in the office” rule, or something of that sort.

    It seems like so often these debates get framed as Right / Wrong, when I think there is plenty of room for middle ground — both philosophically and logistically.

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