Not long after her arrival at Yahoo, new CEO Marissa Mayer started handing out carrots to her new employees, including new smartphones, free food and other Google-style amenities. Now she has brought out the stick: namely, a directive that employees are no longer allowed to work from home, something that is expected to affect as many as 500 Yahoos. Mayer’s move has its supporters, who argue that she is trying to repair Yahoo’s culture — but in doing so, she could be sending exactly the wrong message for a company that is trying to spur innovation after a decade of spinning its wheels.
The moment I first heard Yahoo proclaimed this policy I became angry. It does not impact me directly, but as a highly skilled and experienced IT Security and Networking professional now on the market I can say that Yahoo is no longer on my list of companies I’d care to work for. Here’s why.
About 15 years ago while I worked for EDS as a Network Security Administrator my marriage fell apart. Up until then I rarely if ever worked from home. With divorce looming I had sole custody of my two young kids. I had to work from home when they were sick or were off of school. At the same time my role at EDS changed to include firewall administration, demanding more of my time to cover on-call and odd support hours.
I was fortunate to report to managers that understood my situation and worked to help me. I worked with a great group of professionals who didn’t complain about my flexible work schedule. In fact we all worked together so everyone could have the same flexibility I had. How did I handle things? I became infamous for keeping sleeping bags, pillows, snacks, and toys for my kids in my cube. I don’t know how many nights I carried the two of them into the data center in the middle of the night, each slumped over a shoulder while I badged through the security doors. They slept on the floor swaddled in their sleeping bags and little heads resting on Disney-themed pillows, lullabied by the white noise.
When I interviewed with Magna I was very upfront about what I needed to do to take care of my kids and what I would to do in return. They took me on without hesitation, and I always appreciated and respected the trust they placed in me. Similar to my days at EDS, the team at Magna embraced me and the flexibility I needed. I repaid my boss’ and team’s trust in many of the same ways I did for EDS, but there was one case that was above and beyond.
For reasons that escape my memory the IT staff in Europe all quit on the same day. The organization I worked for was very lean. There were no extra people around to help fill in while they hired new staff. I stepped up, waking between 03:00 and 04:00 Eastern time to support Europe until I had to get my kids ready for school. I’d drop them off (no bus service) and return to cover the rest of the European day and my normal work. I was caretaker of servers and services in addition to the network and security. I did this for almost 6 months from my basement, buying the European IT director time to hire some great team members.
When I moved into management my team earned with me the same opportunities and respect that I earned. With instant messaging and email, IP telephony and video conferencing, and cheap Internet-based VPNs back to the company they could do everything they needed to do from home that they could do from work. Yes, you cannot replace face-to-face interaction. But by the same token how much hallway and water cooler talk is mere friendly trivia?
I’ll leave how companies chose to handle working from home to what makes sense for them and their business. But I want the conversation rephrased to talk about working from home as a tool and not a benefit. It can help both the employer and the employee, and that can’t be taken lightly.
I sincerely hope Marissa Mayer reconsiders her decision. She’s closing a door on quality hard-working talent that will go elsewhere just at the time when she needs them in Yahoo.