Marissa Mayer has succeeded. In getting people to have an opinion about Yahoo again. While many are skewering Mayer for not being progressive with her work-from-home “ban,” people who are more familiar with what exactly is going on are quietly singing her praises.
Mayer will be putting the official smackdown on remote workers come June. People with a work-from-home agreement will have to report to a local office in the region by then, or else. People who have an agreement to work one or two days from home are strongly encouraged to spend those days in the office — a more subtle “ban” that will affect their performance ratings.
“I have been at Yahoo for four years and let’s just say the house needed and still needs a lot of cleaning up. Marissa is doing just that,” wrote an anonymous Yahoo employee on Quora. “People will use the argument that look at Google and how it allows employees to work from home … We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask.”
A non-tragic ending for Yahoo may justify Mayer’s means. As Chris Dixon and others point out, discouraging working from home at Yahoo and discouraging workers from working from home at other, more on-track tech companies like Google are two different things.
There was and is rampant abuse of the Yahoo work-from-home policy — it was a joke. “Working at [Yahoo] HQ was like paying taxes in Greece,” said Twitter’s Patrick Ewing, who also had friends who cheated the system. The fact that the Yahoo parking lot is relatively empty (compared to, oh, Facebook’s) at 5pm is why you can’t have nice things.
We also spoke to a couple of former and current employees, and while some are sniping at the inconvenience, the move was clearly necessary. According to one source, Mayer explained the rationale at Yahoo’s “Friday FYI,” its equivalent of Google’s TGIF. “We’ve checked and some people who work from home haven’t even logged into the VPN…” she apparently said.
So it’s not that Mayer doesn’t get all the studies on workplace productivity, mobile workforce, etc. It’s not that she doesn’t get that going into the office can be a major distraction. She does. It’s not that there aren’t legitimately productive work-from-homers, like the new mom who spends all day at the computer but needs to check in on her kid from time to time. It’s that the bunch of slackers that claimed to be working from home without actually doing any work ruined it for everyone.
In the last four years, Yahoo has gone through five CEOs — An easy environment for people to hide and get lost under the rug. People get away with not working on a single project. And managers are just as guilty as their employees of cheating the system: One VP was given a 100% retention bonus after Scott Thompson laid off everyone… And ended up playing tennis and going to the gym most of the time.
“They simply hired the wrong people over the years and had no metrics to track performance/etc,” one former employee told me. There’s been some internal speculation that the ban will allow the company to lay employees off without paying severance packages, or just get more people to quit in general. “This really is a necessary part of cutting out the cancer that is Yahoo’s current performance,” the same person emphasized. “And while it’s a horrible mess, it’s sadly necessary.”