Working from home – is Marissa Mayer right?

So, by now we’re all aware that Marissa Mayer is sticking firm to the belief that working from home is “for layabouts and ovens” (not exact quote), and has banned it across the board at Yahoo. It’s a move that’s caused both frustration and anger from her staff, but has been lauded by some as exactly what the company needs to get ahead. So is Miss Mayer missing a trick, or simply doing what must be done? 


The thing about Yahoo is that, currently, it’s not exactly blazing a trail. It’s famously a rather bloated company with an underperforming workforce, fending off a reputation that holds its best days are behind it. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that something has to change, and that the change has to fundamentally shift the ways in which Yahoo go about innovating. So is trying to contain where work happens a good first step to more control? In her official memo to the company, Mayer stated that

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

Now, on the surface, this is not an unfair statement. The desire to push innovation is vital, the company culture does need to change, and certainly no-one would argue that communication is key to great work. Mayer is obviously keep to trim the fat in the organisation, to block the gaps and ensure that processes are as streamlined as possible. And this desire to have staff on-site isn’t exactly unusual – Google and Apple famously make their offices as attractive as possible to their staff, providing free meals, places to exercise, play, sleep and relax in an effort to ensure that their top talent is always buzzing through its hallways. But without the perks these offices can provide, it’s also easy to see why the Yahoo staff are somewhat irked by the proposition.

If you love being where you work, if that company goes to every possible length to ensure that the working conditions provided are perfect for you, then why not leave home in the morning with a jaunty cap and a whistle? The key problem here is not that Mayer wants to shake things up – by all accounts that is exactly what Yahoo needs – the problem is that she wants to shake it up by flattening the processes involved in creativity. And that is rather dangerous.

The thing about creativity is that there is no one way to go about it. There is no one time of the day that everyone works best in (especially not in a team that contains both writers and developers), no seating arrangement that ensures a good mood, and no one weekly meeting that solves the communication issues. The reason Google has such a range of facilities, of moods and of ways of working is that they understand that in order to work efficiently and happily, companies need to stretch and flex according to their employees’ needs. Ordering staff to spend all their time together won’t necessarily result in increased productivity, on the contrary, talking to the same faces in the same routine day after day might actually have the opposite effect.

In an internationally connected world, the idea that we have to be in the same room to work together effectively seems old-fashioned – not ideal for a company supposedly on the cutting edge of technology. With barriers of creativity torn down, with world-wide instant communication possible at the press of a button – can we really say that only those between four walls are likely to innovate?  There’s a big difference between ‘putting in the hours’ and ‘creating brilliant work’. Is Mayer planning to judge on results, no matter how they originate, or on face-time in the office?

And finally, then there’s the problem of trust. Whether intentional or not, ordering a workforce not to work from home sends a message loud and clear – I don’t believe you’re working hard enough. And whether true or not, it’s bound to foster resentment in staff. Why put your faith into an organisation if they don’t have faith in you, after all?

As with any corporate shake-up, the results will take a while to become clear. One has to applaud Mayer for her strong-mindedness, her desire to take risks and her determination to push Yahoo forward to create a strong company culture. But only time will tell as to whether the top talent of the tech world is impressed or put off by the move. For my part, I have my best ideas whilst in cafes, on the sofa, or whilst shoving a crumpet into my face surrounded by no-one but my own reflection. Mayer’s way isn’t for me.

By Natasha Hodgson

Enternships Community Manager

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Natasha Hodgson is the Content and Community Manager over at Enternships. She loves writing about inspiring things, and Nicolas Cage. Luckily, those two things are not mutually exclusive.

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