Unpacking Marissa Mayer’s Tele-Commuting Policy

Last week, the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, made headlines when she sent an office-wide memo announcing that Yahoo employees would no longer be allowed to work from home. Mayer cites the need to be working side-by-side and to be present in the office in order to maximize innovation and idea-sharing.

It makes sense that a company that relies on innovation would benefit from maximizing interaction between employees. We have discussed on this blog many times, the benefits to simply having more conversations and making more connections between employees.

Mayer, however, drew criticism from many people who, in particular, felt that this move would unfairly penalize women who worked from home to take care of their children. In some ways this criticism felt unfair and representative of the different standards female leaders face. Why was Mayer suddenly responsible for the plight of working women over and above her responsibility to the success of her company? It seemed unlikely that such a criticism would be levied against an older male CEO.

At the same time, it would be understandable for any working mothers who were affected by the policy shift to feel a sense of unfairness. After all, Mayer, who is herself a new mother, had a nursery installed next to her office and a full-time nanny available while she works. Presumably she does not intend to extend these benefits to her employees.

In addition, while her memo did not say this, it is rumored that her decision was made, at least partially, because she found that employees who worked from home were not logging into Yahoo’s VPN system frequently enough. It appears that Yahoo was not managing its tele-commuting workers very well and that, at least some, were slacking in their job performance. In that light, the move helped increase the fairness of sharing the workload among employees who worked inside and outside the office. In fact, anecdotally it seems that some employees, who work in the office, welcomed the move.

However, with that rumor in mind, tele-commuting workers who were performing at a high level felt like they were being unfairly lumped in with the slackers. This will likely decrease their sense of being valued by the company and will have a negative effect on their continuing relationship with Yahoo. Perhaps it would have been better to address the performance and behavioral problems first before making a blanket proclamation.

While it is not right to hold Mayer to a higher standard with regard to work-life balance simply because she is a woman, it also appears that she might have been able to approach this policy shift in a way that felt more fair to her employees. People can be remarkably flexible and resilient if they feel that their workplace is fair and their work is valued but it does not appear that this move was done in a way to preserve those values.

What do you think of Yahoo’s new policy and how it was put in place?

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