Profits over people

Did you know that, according to published reports, Yahoo
CEO Marissa Mayer enjoys chauffeured limousine service to, and from, the
company's Sunnyvale headquarters? Did you know she's had a nursery built next
to her office so she can care for her child? And, did you know she's notorious
for keeping employees waiting for hours to meet with her?

If so, it should come as no surprise then that Ms.
Mayer has just severed ALL telecommuting positions at Yahoo

Citing a need for face-to-face communications in order to
enhance innovation, Mayer's dictum is, in fact, a brutal, take-it-or-leave-it
ultimatum to the organization's 600 or so telecommuters. Many are single
parents. Others suffer from agoraphobia. Others simply don't possess the
financial wherewithal to move to company HQs.

And, how delicious is it that this also happens to be
Telecommuter Appreciation Week? Timing is, indeed, everything in life.

Ms. Mayer seemed to be a breath of fresh air when she
first joined Yahoo. She made many smart, clear-sighted decisions that were
rewarded on Wall Street. But, her telecommuting 'let them eat cake' declaration
tells me the new Yahoo boss is just like the old boss(es). Note: in the
interests of full transparency, I should report that my firm represented Yahoo
for 15 roller coaster months. At the time, Carol Bartz was CEO. And, I think it
would be fair to describe her period on the throne as a genuine reign of

Rather than continue to posit my views on what I see as
Mayer's readily transparent move to place profits over people, I decided,
instead, to conduct in-house qualitative and quantitative research. 

I first asked Sara Jane Whitman Ramos, our culture czar
and a telecommuting mom, for her take on Marissa's decision. She said, “It's
disheartening to see a company as influential as Yahoo take away its
work-from-home policy. (Mayer's) decision is an antiquated one that, as we're
seeing in the media firestorm, is backfiring. The best and brightest employees
are looking for freedom and flexibility. Peppercomm
recognizes this value in today’s workforce which is why we maintain a
company-wide telecommuting policy, a practice for which we were recognized by
Crain’s New York
. Yahoo needs to build a stronger management system that
fosters open communications across channels, and have a better understanding of
what motivates people.'

I next surveyed our employees, asking them two questions:

1.) If Peppercomm took away its work-from-home policy,
would it negatively impact your perception of the firm?

percent (70%) of the 59 respondents said it would.

2.) If Peppercomm no longer had a work-from-home policy,
would you seek different employment?    

percent (44%) answered yes or maybe.

I'm disappointed, but not at all surprised, to discover
that Ms. Mayer is just the latest in a long line of inside out, top down,
totally detached Yahoo CEOs. She may be doing the right things financially, but
I've always believed a company's most important constituency is its employee
base. And, as a long-time Yahoo observer, I can't name another well-known
corporation that has so consistently mishandled its workplace culture over the

My only question is this: Does Yahoo possess a Marat or
Robespierre within the ranks who has the chutzpah to foment a palace
revolution? If a corporate monarchy ever deserved to be overthrown, it's this
one. The queen is dead! Long live the people!

RepMan tips his telecommuting hat to Vivienne Barlow.

18 thoughts on “Profits over people

  1. Right, but as Sam said in his comments, he uses a Mac and doesn’t log many hours using our VPN. So, were we to base Sam’s telecommuting performance solely on his activity on the Peppercomm VPN, he’d by vying right now with his cousin, Jimmy Bob, for an opening as the local, Bowling Green Wal-Mart greeter.

  2. Spot on, Sam. And, as I noted in response to Michael’s original comment, aside from one rogue licensing executive, Peppercomm has yet to experience any issues with unproductive telecommuters.

  3. I agree. We once represented a human resources consultancy called Blessing White. They preached exactly what you’ve written: to succeed, an organization needs to align its corporate values with those of each individual. So, in Yahoo’s case, they now need to attract a new employee base (if they have the ability) who actually want to spend 23 hours of their day at the Sunnyvale HQs.

  4. Well, it appears that Marissa Mayer did base her decision on data. Yahoo telecommuters appear to have not logged into the VPN enough.
    As a single dad, I absolutely admire companies who support work-from-home professionals. I could not work for a company that required me to be in the office. While I am all in favor of Mayer’s decision to base her move on VPN data, she may be missing the boat. A better measurement would have been: “Can I contact this employee right away?” Just because they are off the VPN does not mean they are not working.

  5. Unfortunately…my original comment never seemed to appear…so let me try again.
    Sorry it took me so long to chime in on this discussion..I was too swamped with work while telecommuting for Steve and company. 🙂 In all seriousness, I think both Michael and Carl have a good point above. Telecommuting–and flexibility for workers in general–is a great thing, but it is predicated on employees who are trustworthy and who are seeking both their well being and their employer’s. If an employee claims to be working from home but isn’t, or insists on working from home but chronically can’t get motivated to work when doing so, then the problem the company has isn’t a telecommuting issue…it’s a personnel issue. (I feel the same way about employers “banning social media at work”…seems that it’s not a social media problem they have, if they really have employees spending all day on Twitter and missing their deadlines.)
    For me, working from home is the ideal set-up. But it’s because I have face-to-face relationships with my co-workers. It’s because I travel to see my colleagues when the opportunity presents itself. It’s because I’ve always found myself more productive working from home. It’s because I like getting up and working on proposals and writing at 2 a.m. It’s because it matches my work style. And so on. (BTW, if you were to track my productivity by VPN, I’d be fired tomorrow. I love my Mac, and only log into my PC in the physical office on the occasion I need something off the server…so I probably work 2 hours a month according to those surveillance methods….)
    We live in a world where motivated employees put the expectation ON THEMSELVES to be connected to their email, and to work, nearly 24/7. If that’s the world they live in, I think earned flexibility in returned is a humane response that ensures employees don’t come to see work’s goals and their personal life, well-being and mental health in opposition with one another.

  6. By the way, I know employees who wouldn’t trade working for the office for anything…so I think so much of this is developing a workplace that matches best to each employee’s work style…To Michael’s point, though, this is predicated on employees who are fully motivated and who join with you in finding a work style that both makes them happiest and the most productive in their job (which I happen to believe are complementary concepts…)

  7. Touche, KensViews. As for Marissa’s internal counsel, who knows? I can tell you, though, that when we represented the organization, PR was so far down the chain of command they could have moonlighted as coal miners.

  8. I agree, Julie, and believe that Ms Mayer is no different than the badly-behaving professional athletes who find themselves in the media spotlight after committing some foolish blunder. Like them, Ms Mayer has led a pampered life and, as a result, possesses both a sense of entitlement and a belief that the rules of society don’t apply to her. Ed Moed is much the same way.

  9. Agree with you, annmb. No matter how hard they try, Yahoo always seems to end up as Silicon Valley’s answer to the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

  10. This all makes me wonder what kind of incompetent counsel she’s getting from her internal communications folks. Someone should have said to her “What kind of message are you sending when you prohibit telecommuting but have an on-campus nursery for your child.” Not only should they have said it, but they should have used the tone Elaine Benes employed when she reminded George Costanza, “YOU’RE BALD”
    And having witnessed it with my own eyes, I strongly agree with Steve’s point that when he’s “working” from home, the crew at Peppercomm is running at 110% and happy! (However, I do think the “Pin The Tail On The RepMan” game in which they participate on those days might be a tad inappropriate!

  11. I find it very sad that Ms. Mayer is no different from male CEOs in years gone by with the “executive washroom” mentality. The fact that she has a personal limousine at her disposal and a personal nursery bothers me more than her ridiculous telecommuting policy.
    I bet you that she hired a company to do a survey about this topic, and they presented research persuading her to eliminate telecommuting. If she actually bothered to talk directly to employees who are single parents without access to personal limos and nurseries, maybe she’d see the light.

  12. I see benefits in people coming together at least some. It’s often easier to exchange information and share ideas over an in-person conversation that it is through a lengthy email exchange. Still, there are tools that should really take the place of email and facilitate near in-person meetings, like MS Lync, that continue to foster working together.
    And if you hire good, trusted employees, they will be committed to getting their work done well, even if that’s at home at least some of the time. Partly because it is now considered by some sources to have the worst traffic in the country and partly because of an entrepreneurial culture, the Bay Area less and less defines work as taking place a fixed set of hours at a fixed place. So Mayer’s decision will keep the headhunters busy. Too bad. She was making real strides in returning to a cool place to work at, and eventually, with.

  13. I guarantee you that most people would say they are productive working from home, or more productive working from home. But I know many aren’t. Speed and productivity are sacrificed when some people work at home. That doesn’t apply to everyone. But, the problem is much more common that you might think. Ask any HR professional, including the ones who work in our own hallowed hallways. I think Mayer overreacted to the VPN data point. But the data point has to be addressed.

  14. Amen, Carl. And, for the record, I find myself far more productive when I work from home. I think our New York employees would agree that THEY are more productive when I work from home.

  15. As a full time telecommuter I have watched the reaction to this announcement with interest. There are two parts to the Yahoo Memo that I disagree with:
    “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.“
    While this can be true, there are counter points. Having people work remotely brings a valuable diversity of opinion, especially when they work in different regions of the country or world. Here at Peppercomm there have been a number of times when a ‘fly-over state’ perspective has brought value to an idea born in a New York minute. Second, working remotely in big sky country provides space in the brain for free thinking – thinking that doesn’t always come easily in the harried world of the big city. Bringing people together is important, but that doesn’t preclude remote workers from delivering significant value.
    “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
    Not true. If what they are really trying to say here is, people who work from home skip off, sleep in and run errands, then that is also not true (for most). I might work from home, but I eat lunch at my desk every day. In fact, I typically put in longer hours at home than I ever did when I commuted to the office. When I talk to other remote workers, they say the same thing.
    I heard on CBS this morning that Yahoo had monitored the VPN usage of its workers and established that many are not doing a full day when they work at home. In that case, those people should be fired. If you have an engaged and valued workforce then people who work from home would be every bit as productive and valuable as those who are in the office.

  16. You raise valid points, Mdresner. I agree that individuals need to earn their work-from-home status. But, I disagree that ‘a lot’ of people take advantage of telecommuting. I can only speak from personal experience and, aside from our lead licensing executive, I can’t name a single telecommuting Peppercommmer who hasn’t thrived, both personally and professionally.

  17. I’m just waiting for her to restrict the “Sex with co-workers” policy limiting it to only private spaces. Brutal.

  18. My post will focus on WFM aka Work From Home – not necessarily personal drivers, in-office day care or waiting room management tactics. I do not believe in a blanket Work From Home policy – that it is categorically denied (which is insensitive) or it is celebrated as a new age in work (which is insensitive). People get sick. Children get sick. Doctors don’t keep weekend hours. Emergencies, traffic accidents and weather happen. Some people who are utterly perfect for their jobs live in another state. Of course I get that. I’ve had my share. But – Work From Home, when mismanaged, saps productivity. And it’s mismanaged a lot. Sorry. But some people tend to claim Work From Home when they’re not really working the full time that they say, or if they intend to, some people get sidetracked – intentionally or otherwise. Work From Home does not mean sleeping in. It does not mean a half a day to run errands. Work From Home does not mean one is frustrated with office politics and need a day to decompress. Those issues are legitimate, but they are personal days. A lot of people don’t get that. A lot of managers don’t see their direct reports doing it. And when that happens, the people who are most affected are those that did work to get to work. One potential outcome is those otherwise loyal employees figure they can (and should) do it themselves. I think Marissa Mayer took an extreme, one-size-must-fit-all approach that will breed insecurity and resentment. It sends all the wrong signals about appreciating lifestyle diversity among employees. But, the other extreme, in my opinion, is just as toxic. Work From Home should be a privilege for those who can prove their ability to get their work done and be the same team players they would otherwise be, were they in the office. Good managers should be unafraid to monitor that privilege and remove it if necessary.